[Editorial] Time to return to the basics of education

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[Editorial] Time to return to the basics of education

The new school season has kicked off. It is the first mask-free school year — and fully normalized — since the Covid-19 outbreak in January 2020. Schools had opening ceremonies for the first time in three years. Things are finally returning to normal.

It had been tough for everyone during the pandemic period. Schools in particular were nearly devastated. Because of the novelty of remote schooling at the early stage of Covid-19, many students were neglected. After the pandemic, the ratio of underperformers in the basic academic standards among high school students sharply rose from 4 percent to 6.8 percent in Korean language, from 3.6 percent to 8.6 percent for English and from 9 percent to 13.5 percent for math.

Infants and kids suffered emotional and social underdevelopment. According to a Korean Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry survey last May, the developmental condition of children under 5 across language, emotion and awareness reached 52 percent of the standard level. Among children brought up at home, 17.4 percent was late in language development.

Health also deteriorated. According to Statistics Korea, the malnutrition rate among the age group of 1 to 9 rose from 3.4 percent to 6.5 percent — and from 16.7 percent to 23.4 percent for those aged 10 to 18 — during the pandemic. The obesity rate also rose due to a lack of physical activity during the period. Academic, emotional, social ability and health standards all deteriorated for children.

In the digital age where various means of technologies are available for education, human contact nevertheless is important for children because schooling is not just about academic learning. At schools, children form relationships out of their family boundary for the first time and learn to live as a community member. We are relieved that schools are finally returning to normal.

There are concerns too. According to the Ministry of Education, school violence cases which stopped at 0.9 percent in 2020 rose to 1.7 percent in 2022, higher than 1.6 percent in 2019 before the Covid-19 outbreak. School violence can be addressed when schools become fully functional. Personality develops from interactions with others. If children cannot find their role in the school, it would be a disaster for the individual, the family, and the society.

Upon normalization, schools must depart from the top-down approach. The remote schooling experience has accelerated digitalization. Customized schooling can reduce the gap in academic levels and various video, audio and AI-based materials can enable livelier education. Authorities and educators must remember that their ultimate role is to bring up the children as able members of society. They are also reqired to carry out new education conducive to the digital age.
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