On Wednesday, the opening day of school in South Korea, roughly 160,000 students in kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high schools were absent owing to symptoms of the coronavirus, according to the tallies gathered by the “Students Health Self-diagnosis” app.
The Ministry of Education announced Thursday that of 5.87 million students registered on the self-diagnosis app, 4.92 million, or 83.7% of them, participated in diagnosis on Wednesday. Around 158,171 or 2.7% of the students did not go to school either because they had been diagnosed with Covid-19 or they were showing symptoms such as fever and sore throat.
Elementary schools took up the biggest share for the absent students. Out of a total 2.31 million students, 89,818, or 3.9%, did show up at school. The proportion of absence stood at 2.6%, or 7,400 out of 385,473 kindergarteners, 2.7%, or 33,488 out of 1.22 million middle school students, and 2.5%, or 26,895 out of 1.06 million high school students. Jeong Jong-cheol, the deputy minister of education, said the elementary school was most susceptible as there are as many as six grades and the students had not been vaccinated yet.
Meanwhile, the education ministry reaffirmed its policy to press ahead with onsite class this semester, conditions permitting. The ministry additionally hired 1,303 teachers in charge of school quarantine. It is also planning to recruit 8,900 fixed-term teachers to take care of densely affected classes.
But the ministry failed to come up with a solution as how it will make up for the absence of teachers who were diagnosed with the coronavirus on the opening day of school. Reportedly, the education ministry has yet to figure out exactly how much workforce is needed for replacement. Instead, the ministry gave a guideline to schools to tackle the issue internally first before hiring fixed-term teachers or harnessing the pool of teachers provided by the education office in each city or province.
The Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association claimed that the Ministry of Education must come up with a unified standard on the number of confirmed cases or the size of isolation to return to remote schooling. “Teachers are getting diagnosed with the coronavirus everywhere, but they are teaching students from home because their school failed to hire replacements,” said an official from the teachers’ association. “Soon enough, we will reach a limit for both quarantine and education.”