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Educators expresses concerns over timing of resuming in-person classes

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Students go to school in Busan, Sept. 6. Yonhap
Students go to school in Busan, Sept. 6. Yonhap

By Bahk Eun-ji

Concerns are being raised among teachers and parents of students in elementary, middle and high schools across the country over the starting point of a "Living with COVID-19" scheme and whether schools can resume full in-person classes immediately or should postpone them until after the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) slated for Nov. 18.

The Ministry of Education plans to announce its finalized plan for a gradual easing of virus curbs for classrooms on Friday after collecting opinions from school faculty, teachers' organizations, students and parents.

On the same day, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters will also finalize its plans to shift gradually to a return to "normal life" starting next month. The main goal is to ease restrictions on multi-use facilities by January 2022 in three stages in accordance with the ongoing risk of virus transmissions.

However, parents and teachers are expressing anxiety over the spread of infection, saying that schools should be approached differently when it comes to the easing of social distancing measures in classrooms, where teachers and students are in close contact.

"Since the educational field is different, we are comprehensively considering the overall academic schedule, such as the CSAT, mid-terms, final exams and winter vacation," Vice Minister of Education Jung Jong-chul said in a recent briefing.

"We are gathering opinions about the full resumption of in-person classes, field trips and other activities, as well as the restoration of daily educational activities such as school meals."

A key part of the plan is whether the education ministry will allow more students to attend classes in person. The cap on in-person attendance has been two-thirds for middle school students and half of the total for high school students in areas under Level 4 social distancing measures, which have been in effect in Seoul. Schools outside the Seoul metropolitan area, which are under Level 3, have resumed in-person classes fully.

However, opinions within the education community are divided on the starting date of the full resumption of in-person classes, mainly because entrance examinations including interviews and essay tests, are scheduled after the CSAT.

If cluster infections occur during the CSAT, the remaining test schedules of individual universities will be disrupted.

High school teachers and staff members have said that social distancing measures should be eased in classrooms after the CSAT. A petition filed on the Cheong Wa Dae website calling for delaying the government's plan for a return to normalcy until after the CSAT had attracted more than 4,680 signatures as of Wednesday.

According to a survey conducted by the Korea Federation of Teachers' Associations, about 35 percent of teachers said that in-person school attendance should be postponed until after the CSAT, rather than starting in early November.

This opinion is also supported by the fact that vaccinated teenagers aged 16 to 17, who are in their first and second years of high school, will have developed antibodies starting Nov. 22, which is after the CSAT. The vaccination reservation rate for teenagers aged 16 to 17 is 62 percent, as of Tuesday.

On the other hand, parents and teachers of elementary school students are saying that their children should go to school as soon as possible. In the Seoul metropolitan area, one-third of them are still taking remote classes every day, widening the education gap.

"The full resumption of in-person classes will be the best choice to bridge the education gap between young children, but the virus situation in the Seoul metropolitan area has not been fully contained, so we are collecting opinions and discussing the situation with the teachers and staff members of schools so as to make a detailed decision," said an official from the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.



Bahk Eun-ji ejb@koreatimes.co.kr


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