|A person uses a COVID-19 self-test kit at a health center in Gwangju, in this Jan. 26 photo. Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
Parents showed mixed reactions to the fact that the education ministry is mulling over requiring kindergarteners and elementary students to take rapid antigen COVID-19 tests at home twice a week before going to school, starting from next month.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) said that the plan is under discussion, as students at kindergartens and elementary schools are currently not subject to receiving the vaccine, despite their vulnerability to infection.
Some parents oppose the government's plan, saying that the rapid antigen test, which has limited accuracy compared to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, causes unnecessary stress to young children if they have to take it frequently.
On the other hand, other parents say that such measures are acceptable as children need to return to some form of normalcy in schools by resuming full in-person classes with a relatively low risk of infection.
The ministry is expected to announce detailed plans for kindergarteners and elementary school students to be able return to school on Wednesday. Currently, it has been considering a plan to test students using the rapid antigen test kits at home twice a week, once before school on Monday and once between Wednesdays and Thursdays. Students will only be allowed to go to classes if they test negative.
In order to do so, the ministry said last week that it was in consultation with the provincial education offices to distribute rapid antigen test kits free of charge to a total of 3.3 million kindergarteners and elementary school students.
However, a petition was then posted on the Cheong Wa Dae (presidential office) website, calling for the education ministry to withdraw its plan. It had garnered over 60,600 signatures as of 1 p.m. Tuesday.
The petitioner wrote, "The government said it was a decision for the sake of the children's safety, but in fact, that it is far from being realistic and it is inefficient."
"Children under the age of 11 are not vaccinated of their own volition, so it is nothing but discrimination against those who are unvaccinated. Parents like me can't force our children to go through such painful tests using nasal swabs twice a week," the petitioner wrote.
On the other hand, other parents said that the method seems to be the best way to move forward in a situation where full resumption of in-person classes can no longer be postponed.
Yoo Seung-hyun, a mother of two children in a daycare center in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, said, "It is a better choice for working parents like me raising two children who don't have any other place to take care of them."
"Even if the accuracy of the self-test kits is lower, there are no other options for unvaccinated children," Yoo said.
Another parents also said that they were in favor of the measures, citing the necessity for in-person classes to fully resume.
"Except for a few parents who can afford private education for their children, most children are relying on public education," said Kim Young-sik, the father of a second grader at an elementary school in northern Seoul's Nowon District.
"I'd rather the children get tested at home, so there is less anxiety for parents like me who have to send their kids to school or kindergarten," he said.