Time to get back to schoolParents are getting anxious ahead of the start of the school season in March. As Covid-19 outbreaks have not subsided, daily cases are still hovering above 400. School attendance would be difficult under the current social distancing measures under Level 2.5 in Seoul and Gyeonggi. Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said that the 2021 school calendar will proceed as planned. But if schooling continues online due to the virus threat, education disruption may continue. Students and parents suffered greatly last year due to the closure of schools across the country.
Online classes have deepened learning disparities among elementary students and especially students from low-income backgrounds. Children also felt isolated, stressed as they suffered from a lack of care. One year is enough. If the education system is sustained at this rate, both quality and inequality will worsen.
Schools must establish strict quarantine rules. Shutdowns must be the last resort. A poll showed that 60 percent of teachers support school normalization. Universities also cannot continue with online classes. Authorities must not overlook the value of education.
According to a Unesco survey, 115 out of 210 countries have kept schools open during the pandemic. France has not entirely shut schools down, although its number of daily cases is three times greater than the daily cases in Korea. There are empirical studies showing more harm than good is done when schools are closed. When hygiene and distancing measures are kept strictly, infection risks are not great. In America, teachers are vaccinated first. In Korea, older people at care centers and their medical staff will be the first to be inoculated.
A British research institute estimated that most developed countries — including Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and Japan — would achieve collective immunity by mid-2022 when 60 to 70 percent of their populations become immune to Covid-19. Korea’s hope to achieve herd immunity by vaccinating more than 70 percent of the population by September may not work out.
If collective immunity is delayed and Covid-19 remains a threat next winter, school curriculums may not normalize even next year. The ruins in education due to inequalities across income classes and deepened social deficiency in childhood could leave a lasting damage. Authorities must re-examine their response to Covid-19 by taking various and broader factors into account.