Tackling the education vacuumThe Ministry of Education will announce plans for online classes for primary, middle and high schools today. Such measures are unavoidable, because our schools cannot be shut down indefinitely as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
However, the ministry cannot avoid responsibility for such a slow reaction after doing nothing over the past month, beyond withdrawing a plan to distribute face masks to ordinary citizens. It delayed opening schools three times, but could not devise a concrete plan to protect students’ right to learn. If it followed the lead of universities that started online classes two to three weeks ago, it could have prepared for such a loss of school hours.
The Education Ministry belatedly took action last week, announcing some guidelines for online classes and checking digital readiness of students. By Monday afternoon, the ministry asked each education office across the country to offer information on computers, smartphones and other digital equipment students have. That’s the same as asking football players if they have football shoes right before the game starts.
The most vulnerable group is students whose digital access is limited. About 130,000 students do not use digital gadgets at all. Usually, each household has one computer, but what if it has two or more children?
A number of schools are suddenly required to brace for online classes. Most of them have to record teachers’ online classes with smartphones, as they don’t have quality recording equipment. They cannot afford the expensive digital equipment available in colleges. The ministry promised to increase online-learning content and augment the capacity of computer servers. But that is impossible in such a short period of time, and most schools will most likely experience a severe online traffic jam.
No one knows for how long this education crisis will last. The Education Ministry must present long-term measures before it is too late. It also must consider readjusting its school calendar and delay the annual Scholastic Ability Test for college admissions. (The test takes place in November.) The government must tackle the unprecedented challenge in a proactive way.
The Ministry of Education needs to consider the introduction of “edutech” for public education. Even without the coronavirus outbreak, digital education is a new global trend. Many interactive programs, such as Zoom and Webex, have already hit the market. Khan Academy Korea also offers free-of-charge interactive programs that can offer customized lessons to students. The government needs to find ways to take advantage of such services.