What to do on SaturdayBeginning with the new school year that starts on March 2, Korea’s elementary, middle and high schools will only be open for five days a week instead of six. Schools tried out the reduced schedule last year, closing every other Saturday, and the change will be made permanent this year.
Five-day school weeks have long been the norm in the West, and they’re becoming increasingly common in Asia. China closed schools on Saturday in 1995, and Japan did so in 2002.
In anticipation of the change in Korea, travel agencies are rolling out weekend packages and cram schools are opening weekend classes. Demand in these industries will certainly increase starting next month. But what is good for them is not necessarily good for everyday Korean students - the people the schedule change is meant to benefit.
Families are already suffering financially and can hardly even think of going on a weekend trip. And with less formal instruction in schools, parents will be under pressure to spend more on private classes.
Even more importantly, working and single parents now have to worry about an extra day of child care. Education authorities should be working hard to help children who will no longer have care on Saturdays. But so far, the signs are not good.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced its plans to shorten the school week last year, but most public schools have not even conducted surveys of students to determine who may require care on Saturdays.
The rotating placements of principals and teachers is also a problem since these vital players will not be aware of the resources available at their new workplaces right away, possibly keeping them from connecting needy students with help. Even if local governments organize educational, sports or cultural programs on Saturdays, they will be of no use if students don’t know about them.
It is clear that schools and local governments must expand Saturday programs so that children with parents who work on Saturdays are not left home alone. Otherwise, the onus will be on parents to seek out and pay for private care. Schools should also take extra care that students do not run into accidents on Saturdays.
To help schools as they deal with this change, museums, galleries and science museums can also offer free programs for children. If we all chip in, we can capitalize on the free Saturdays to better our children’s lives.