Talk of later start time in schools draws backlash

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Talk of later start time in schools draws backlash

Students in Korea are known for having longer study hours, higher stress levels and shorter sleeping hours than many of their peers in other parts of the world, drawbacks that are often justified by stellar performance rates on international tests.

To rectify this issue, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education and Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education have made moves to ease the burden on their students with proposals to persuade schools in their districts to delay the start of classes until 9 a.m.

The move is intended to give extra hours - or at least a few minutes - of sleep to many tired Korean students, though the plan has so far fueled a backlash from some educators.

Typical Korean high schools generally start classes at 7:30 a.m. and finish late, up to 9 or 10 p.m. for semi-mandatory supplementary study sessions. Most middle schools begin at 8 a.m., and elementary schools at 8:30 a.m., with variations by region.

Detailed discussions about starting the school day later began this month after Gyeonggi Superintendent Lee Jae-jeong suggested the revision.

On Thursday, the education office issued statements demanding that elementary, middle and high schools in Gyeonggi start the day at 9 a.m.

But following the move, teachers from the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association accused the education office of exceeding its authority, citing that the law entitled school principals to decide start times. The teachers’ organization has vowed to seek legal and administrative recourse to oppose it.

“We will sternly respond against the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education for the sake of ensuring the rule of law,” the group said in a statement.

The Gyeonggi education office has since taken a step back, arguing that the statement was more of a “recommendation rather than an enforcement.”

However, the issue came to a head again on Monday when Seoul Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon hinted during a meeting at his interest in the idea of pushing school hours back.

Some senior officials at the meeting voiced their opposition to the idea, though, prompting Cho to take a more cautious approach.

“Let’s wait and see how things unfold in Gyeonggi,” he said.

The Seoul education office said that it will hold consultations to discuss scheduling.


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