School system draft cuts class hours, divisions

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School system draft cuts class hours, divisions

Korean students currently in the seventh grade will have fewer classes in the Korean language, English and math - the three subjects considered the crown jewels of domestic education - by the time they enter high school in 2018, according to a revised draft of the national school system announced by the Ministry of Education on Thursday.

A total of 1,530 hours will be allotted to the three subjects combined in each semester, down 102 hours, or 6.6 percent, from the 1,428 hours in the current system.

Thursday’s announcement is among the Education Ministry’s latest moves to undermine the country’s frenzied spending on private education and students’ stress over good marks. A government report released in mid-December 2014 showed that English and math education were the two subjects in highest demand in private learning.

Of the 18.6 trillion won ($16.9 billion) spent annually on private education, English accounts for 6.3 trillion won and math for 5.8 trillion won, the education authority said.

Taken together, the two subjects capture 65 percent of the spending.

The ministry said it would finalize Thursday’s revision and make an announcement in September after collecting more opinions through public hearings.

Starting from those who will gain admission to a local high school in 2018, seven subjects will be made mandatory for all students, including Korean language, English, math, social studies, science, Korean history and a science subject based on experiments. Every student will receive the same amount of classes in each one.

High school students currently choose between concentrating on math and science, only taking the science sections of the annual College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), or only taking the liberal arts classes and the accompanying CSAT portion.

The government announced in February 2014 that the long-established two-track distinction will be removed. The integration of the split system was aimed at fostering more well-rounded students.

Under the new system, students will be required to complete all sections of the CSAT.

The ministry also mentioned Thursday that all middle schools will be legally required to implement the “free semester system” next year. The activity-oriented semester is designed to teach students in different ways - through discussions, outdoor activities and team projects, for instance - and place less emphasis on test scores.

All middle schoolers will also be required to take an hour-long information science course every week.

An experience-based safety training course will be regularly offered to elementary school students, in an effort to prevent the reoccurrence of the April 2014 Sewol ferry accident, when Korea’s worst maritime disaster resulted in the deaths of more than 300 passengers, mostly high school students on a class field trip to Jeju Island.

Korean language education will also be reinforced, with elementary school students receiving 18 additional hours of classes from the current 27 hours.

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

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