Effective today on December 20, all kindergartens, elementary, middle, and high schools in the Seoul Metropolitan region and overcrowded schools out of the Seoul Metropolitan area will be running in-person and online classes, ending the in-person classes that started on November 22 in one month. Some schools have come up with academic schedules that vary by grade, creating chaos for particularly working parents just one or two weeks ahead of winter vacation.
The Ministry of Education appeared to be determined when it announced full in-person class plans in the second semester on June 20, saying that “significant correlations between in-person class and the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases had not been confirmed.” It is being criticized for suspending its plans on July 9, only three weeks after it had announced full in-person class plans, when the government raised social distancing measures due to the fourth COVID-19
wave, on grounds that it had pushed for in-person class plans without any effective prevention measures. The ministry allowed partial and full in-person classes before announcing that it would withdraw plans for full in-person classes, reversing its position that “full in-person classes would stay in place, even in the event of contingency measures.” Changing its plans for five times for six months, it is duly criticized for its unorganized and unpredictable education planning.
Education in developed countries make it a priority to leave their schools open for in-person classes out of concerns for learning loss. According to UNESCO, Korea’s schools stayed closed for a total of 68 weeks last year, which was fourth in the world among 38 OECD member states, after Colombia (70 weeks), Costa Rica (70 weeks) and Chile (69 weeks). The period was longer than Japan (11 weeks), France (12 weeks), the U.K. (27 weeks) and the U.S. (62 weeks), where the pandemic conditions were more severe than Korea.
Two years into the pandemic, it is irresponsible to close schools as the number of confirmed cases rise. The learning loss due to COVID-19 was evident in the recent university entrance exam results. The educational authorities should come up with more effective COVID-19 dealing measures to help students stay at schools without being infected. They should also enhance the level of online learning so that students can access high quality online lessons.