|A teacher greets students at an elementary school in the southwestern city of Gwangju after the school reopened Monday. It had previously implemented online classes amid fears over the spread of COVID-19. / Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
Schools, particularly those in provincial areas, are struggling to implement quarantine measures ahead of the second semester as they are short of money and staff, according to data presented by Rep. Sim Sang-jung, leader of the minor progressive opposition Justice Party, Tuesday.
A total of 39,182 workers were performing the role of quarantine officials in schools across the country for the last semester as of June 22. This amounted to 0.65 people per 100 students, meaning one staff member was in charge of 153 students, the data showed.
In some cities and provinces, one person was responsible for 300 to 400 students due to the shortage of workers. In addition, the government's budget to pay their wages was not approved until about 40 days after the start of school.
The school quarantine support system project, which was implemented in May before the physical opening for the semester was intended to provide personnel who can perform the role of quarantine officials such as checking the temperature of students and ensuring they practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their classrooms. The workers sent to schools included after-school instructors, retired teachers and volunteers.
If a school hires such workers through an official job posting, the education authorities pay their salaries.
By region, Daejeon had the most workers with 1.18 per 100 students, while Gyeonggi Province had the fewest at 0.22, a five-fold gap between cities and provinces. Calculating the number of students overseen by each worker, Gyeonggi Province had 448.4; South Jeolla Province, 327.7; and North Gyeongsang Province, 260.7.
The gap between regions widened due to the different budget allocations for regional education offices as the education ministry covers 30 percent of the budget and the regional education authorities pay 70 percent.
In addition, the education ministry's budget for the project was not finalized until June 30 ― 41 days after the school opened physically and 54 days after the project was announced on May 7.
Rep. Sim said the budget was tied to the Ministry of Strategy and Finance's "frequent allocation" system. Some schools had difficulties hiring workers for quarantine work who were willing to take risk of virus infection.
A middle school in Gyeonggi Province spent the spring semester without any personnel to perform quarantine work. A teacher pointed out. "It is an increased workload for teachers to directly hire such workers especially when they are already occupied with preparing remote classes."
In the second semester, the education ministry said it would utilize the regional education offices' own budgets without government support and push ahead with them in connection with job projects by local governments.
"The support project for schools' quarantine workers should be made into an official system or set up in a manual so that it can be automatically carried out in emergency situations such as outbreak of infectious diseases," Rep. Sim said. "The education authorities should resolve these regional gaps by providing as much support as schools want, and allocate a timely budget."