After-school programs fall short of guidelinesIn response to the increasing need for more after-school programs in elementary schools, the Ministry of Education announced last year that it would require schools to include all first- and second-grade applicants in their extended services program.
Expanded aftercare hours started at the beginning of this month, though so far it appears that few primary schools have been capable of pulling together enough resources to meet the demands of the revised policy.
With its onset, one caregiver at a primary school in Seongbuk District, who requested to remain anonymous, is now required to watch 20 additional students.
On Monday, after classes finished, the children moved to aftercare in droves, while their supervisor moved aside desks and chairs in the classroom to accommodate them.
According to the ministry, it is recommended that schools reserve a separate room for the child care program, though due to a lack of resources, many of them have just been using empty classrooms. Moreover, the rooms must also be equipped with a refrigerator, mats, games and other playtime equipment, according to policy guidelines.
Still, at Seongbuk’s elementary school, those amenities were nowhere to be seen.
“Even if children are sick, there is no room for them to lie down,” said the caregiver. “It would cost at least 10 million won [$9,340] to meet the guidelines.”
Other schools in Seoul are still hiring staff to watch over their extended services programs.
“We weren’t able to recruit care teachers because we needed to work on expanding the space to accommodate more students,” said a teacher of an elementary school in Gwangjin District, eastern Seoul.
In Gyeonggi, construction at 431 schools is still ongoing to build rooms for aftercare.
Some schools, faced with a surging number of first- and second-graders, have even excluded older children from the list of those eligible for the program. For instance, at an elementary school in Guro District, southwestern Seoul, 50 third- and fourth-graders applied for extended care, but none of them were accepted.
“Parents get really frustrated and depressed,” said a teacher at the school. “So now they are seeking out housekeepers or separate private institutes [to watch their children].”
Before the policy revision, schools selected students based on the parents’ income. The lower their income, the more likely it was that students would be accepted into the program.
However, as the number of working moms increased, more and more parents requested that restrictions be eased or eradicated altogether.
About 3.7 percent of primary school children, or 122,351 out of 3.3 million, spend more than five hours alone per day, according to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
That figure far outnumbers the capacity of Seoul’s school-based care programs, which can only accommodate 11,876 elementary school students.
And while the Education Ministry is seeking to expand the number of after-school child care programs, it is still far from meeting the demand. “I believe there will be differences in financial capability or spatial issues from one school to another,” said a ministry representative. “Still, we can’t go and chastise them. Regional education offices are responsible for that.”
BY SHIN JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]