Preschools and elementary, middle, and high schools in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province, and Incheon will switch to remote classes from today through September 11. The comprehensive suspension on attending offline classes, excluding the seniors of high schools, is equivalent to phase three of South Korea’s social distancing guidelines. The government has limitedly enforced such a suspension on Seoul and the nearby region based on the judgment that the current speed of COVID-19 infection requires proactive measures, even though the phase two social distancing guidelines are applied throughout the country. Among 280 new patients confirmed on Tuesday, 221 are from Seoul or the nearby region.
The government’s sudden announcement has caused confusion among schools and students preparing to go to school in the second semester even until the day before the announcement. Working parents with young children are desperately looking for babysitters as they have used up their available leave days from work during the first semester when online classes were offered. Although elementary schools will provide daycare programs, there is growing anxiety as many students and teachers have tested positive. Rigorous disease prevention measures should be put in place so that parents feel safe sending their children to such programs.
Schools believe that students’ academic ability has been diminished overall, except for those with top performance, as offline classes were partially missing in the first semester. However, the measures put forward by the Ministry of Education on Tuesday focus on students who fall behind basic academic levels, neglecting those in the middle- to low-levels. Moreover, schools will close according to the phase three guidelines while private educational institutes in the region will remain open as long as they have less than 300 students according to the phase two guidelines, causing concerns about a widening gap in the academic skills of students in different income classes. Given the current circumstances that the so-called “COVID-19 generation” whose lives continue to be affected even after graduation due to the lack of proper education has been predicted to emerge, it is hard not to ask what the education authorities have been doing so far.
High school seniors are feeling the most anxiety as they have less than 100 days left until the national college entrance exam. “Our priority is to hold the national college entrance exam on December 3 as scheduled,” said Minister of Education Yoo Eun-hye. However, she did not deny the possibility of changing the date of the exam if the situation worsens. For rolling admissions, which were supposed to begin in September, 70 to 80 percent of colleges have already announced the change of original schedule. It is ever so frustrating that there is no plan B even though college entrance procedures will begin next month. Would the government make a last-minute announcement for the schedule change of college entrance procedures as it did for remote classes? It is inevitable that not only college entrance procedures but also overall education at elementary, middle, and high schools will face prolonged challenges going forward. Detailed guidelines for classes and evaluation methods for each phase of social distancing should be developed to minimize the impact on students’ academic abilities and enable both students and parents to prepare in advance.