Some 850,000 middle and high school seniors started their new semester online on Thursday across South Korea. With the outbreak of COVID-19 forcing schools to postpone resumption over four times, the education authorities decided to phase in the first-ever online semester commencing for middle and high school seniors first instead of a full-fledged resumption for fear of the spread of virus infections.
However, the ambitious remote schooling faced hiccups from the day 1. Few schools were capable of providing interactive class for want of video conference system and equipment. The EBS Online Class where class materials were uploaded remained inaccessible for more than 30 minutes. The simultaneous sign-in capacity of the site is supposed to have been expanded to 3 million, but it seemed unable to handle even 850,000 students. The prolongation of covid-19 was a given fact, and the earlier cancelation of offline schooling meant we had 38 days to prepare. The chaos seen today is attributable to the complacency and lack of preparation on the part of the education ministry and schools concerned.
Starting next Thursday, the first and second graders in middle and high schools and fourth to six graders in elementary school will start online schooling, followed by first to third graders on April 20. The day 1’s trials and errors must be fixed quickly before the online schooling begins in earnest. Improving the quality of class and evening out the educational gap between different areas should be top priorities.
The ministry of education must provide equally shared materials while addressing issues such as lack of digital devices or Internet access failure. The formality of “online” should be scrapped when necessary so that students with a poor background or disabilities can receive a direct care from teachers as a way to meet their academic and emotional needs. The disruption in schedule will inevitably change the mode of evaluation. A set of fair standards and evaluation system must be devised quickly enough.
Some 1.5 billion students in 188 countries around the world are remote-schooling owing to the pandemic outbreak. While the online schooling is a choice forced by the disease, it also poses an opportunity to test a future education model that defies the restrictions of time and place. Experts predict that the climate change will shorten the cycle of infectious diseases. Readily offering high-quality online education to students in a physically isolated environment has become a common agenda for education authorities across the globe. Backed by IT prowess and notorious educational zeal, South Korea seems well positioned to excel.