Younger students can expect more time at school this year: Education Ministry

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Younger students can expect more time at school this year: Education Ministry

A teacher waves to her students at an elementary school in downtown Seoul Thursday. Earlier in the day, the Education Ministry announced that first and second graders will be able to go to school daily starting next semester if social distancing measures are Level 2 or lower. [NEWS1]

A teacher waves to her students at an elementary school in downtown Seoul Thursday. Earlier in the day, the Education Ministry announced that first and second graders will be able to go to school daily starting next semester if social distancing measures are Level 2 or lower. [NEWS1]

More young students are expected to attend in-person classes in the new semester according to plans announced by the Ministry of Education Thursday to ease some social distancing regulations in schools.
 
Kindergartners and first and second graders are expected to be able to go to classes every day, contingent on the government’s five-tier social distancing restrictions staying at or below Level 2, according to a detailed guideline on school operation for 2021 revealed by the Education Ministry and the National Council of Governors of Education.
 
The Education Ministry said it doesn’t plan on postponing major academic schedules this year, including the start of the new school year, vacations and the annual standardized college entrance exam.  
 
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said in a press briefing Thursday, “We had to break away from the academic calendar following the unpredicted Covid-19 situation last year, but in 2021, we planned a predictable academic calendar, a flexible curriculum and a stable educational safety net."
 
Under the lowest Level 1 and Level 1.5 social distancing measures, schools can operate at two-thirds capacity.
 
Level 2, the third-highest tier, caps attendance at one-third capacity for elementary and middle schools, though this can be relaxed to two-thirds depending on the school's situation. At high schools, the cap is set at two-thirds capacity.
 
Under Level 2.5 measures, currently implemented in the greater Seoul area, schools have to maintain one-third capacity, while the highest Level 3 bans in-person classes, and all students have to switch to remote lessons.  
 
The ministry’s new plan allows kindergartners and first and second graders to be exempt from these social distancing guidelines for Level 2 and below.  
 
The ministry said the decision took into consideration scientific data and studies that showed there was a low rate of coronavirus transmissions in children under 10 years old and that younger students are better off with in-person learning, along with the growing demand for child care for working parents.
 
College-bound high school seniors, like last year, will be able to attend physical classes every day.
 
The new school year will start on March 2 as planned, said Minister Yoo.
 
Last year, the start of the new school year was pushed back over a month to April and unprecedentedly kicked off through remote lessons. Summer and winter vacations are expected to take place as usual without any postponement or reduction.
 
Last year, the state-administered College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), usually held in November, was postponed to Dec. 3. This year, the CSAT will be held as scheduled on Nov. 18.
 
Small schools, specialized schools and rural schools will be able to determine student capacity freely when the social distancing scheme is under Level 2.5. Schools are categorized as small if it has less than 300 students, or a student body of 300 to 400 with classes under 25 students. Small kindergartens are defined as having less than 60 students.
 
Schools are legally required to operate over 190 days and kindergartens over 180 days, and the ministry doesn’t plan to cut any school days this year. In the 2020 school year, the academic calendar was decreased to 171 days because of the pandemic.
 
The Education Ministry also supplemented its policy on school operation and remote learning to bolster students’ learning while abiding by social distancing guidelines amid Covid-19.
 
The ministry said it will dispatch 50,000 personnel to support schools in disease control and social distancing efforts, and employ an additional 2,000 temporary teachers to help schools maintain classes of less than 30 students in lower elementary grades. It will also operate more after school classes to help working parents with child care.
 
Schools now have the infrastructure in place to easily switch back and forth between remote and in-person lessons, unlike the initial confusion last year when educators and students had to learn the ropes of online schooling, although there have been complaints that internet lessons are lacking.
 
The Education Ministry last October conducted a survey of 772,000 students, parents and teachers on the quality of online lessons, which showed that 81 percent of students and 57.7 percent of parents were satisfied with remote learning. The survey showed interactive videoconference classes increased from 14.8 percent in the first semester to 55.7 percent in the second semester.
 
Steps will be taken in order to bolster efficacy of online learning, and teachers will be expected to monitor whether students are properly participating in remote lessons real-time, such as requiring log-in times or checking participation individually via text messages. If the completion of the lesson is not confirmed within three days, the student would be considered absent for the class.
 
Public e-learning lessons provided by the Korea Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) are expected to implement learning management system (LMS) technology to better track student engagement.
 
With the start of the new semester, interactive video conference learning services will be supported through the public e-learning platform.  
 
The ministry added that it aims to equip all classes with wireless networks over winter vacation.
 
BY SARAH KIM   [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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