Talks to begin over a fall start to school year

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Talks to begin over a fall start to school year

Education authorities on Monday said that they will “officially start negotiations” on whether to require Korean schools to start the school year in September, once again fueling debate on a subject that has previously been thwarted due to public concern about the social costs.

The Ministry of Education said it will begin collecting opinions from education experts, parents and teachers to discuss when and how the new system will be implemented.

All elementary, middle and high schools, as well as universities, will be up for discussion.

“Nobody disagrees with the very idea [to start schools in September], but many have claimed that the transformation process will create [social] confusion,” said Oh Seung-geol, an officer with the Education Ministry.

The ministry said in a press release on Monday that the decision to resume negotiations, less than a decade after they ended fruitlessly under the former Roh Moo-hyun administration, was settled based on two primary motivators: to actively respond to the “dwindling school-age population,” and to “satisfy the global exchange trends of teachers and students.”

By making it easier for international students to study in Korea, the ministry implied that it could shift the economic downturn resulting from a decreasing number of students.

Only Korea and Japan begin the school year in the spring. China, Britain, France, Canada and the United States, among others, usually begin in fall.

The Education Ministry said in its statement on Monday that if local schools were to begin the school year in September like their global counterparts, teachers, researchers and exceptional students would find it easier to work or study in Korea.

Korean students would also be able to join international exchange programs and apply for internships - activities that are bound to strengthen their practical skills, the ministry added.

If approved, it remains to be seen when the new system would be implemented, and educational authorities said they do not have a detailed time frame for discussions.

On Monday, the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association (KFTA), the country’s oldest and largest teachers’ organization, lauded the ministry’s announcement in large part, saying it “goes along with the global trend.”

However, the KFTA added that the ministry was misguided to approach “an educational issue from an economic viewpoint,” and that the start of the school year and the way schools operated should not be changed “to [satisfy] a few international students.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [selee@joongang.co.kr]




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