SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Korea Bizwire) — Preschoolers and lower graders of elementary school will have more in-person instruction this year, the Ministry of Education said on Thursday, announcing a new plan to relax social distancing rules at schools.
In a detailed policy for school operation for the first half, the ministry made an exemption to the policy of attendance caps at day care centers and kindergartens and in classes for first and second graders at elementary schools.
The new policy applies up until Level 2, the middle level of the country’s five-tier restriction system.
Under the Level 2 rules, the school attendance cap is set at one-third for elementary and middle schools, but it can be relaxed to two-thirds depending on the situation of the pandemic. At high schools, it is set at two-thirds.
The shift in policy was made in accordance with scientific findings and concerns over various side effects of long-term virtual learning and a widening learning gap, the ministry said.
“We took into consideration three factors — that children younger than 10 are less likely to become infected with the coronavirus, younger children are better off with in-person learning and there are growing needs for child care at school,” a ministry official said.
The ministry also relaxed the definition of small schools to those with 400 students or less, from 300 students or less. Small schools and schools for kids with special needs are allowed to decide on school attendance on their own until Level 2.5.
High school seniors will be expected to go to school every day like last year.
“We will keep last year’s daily attendance rule for high school seniors in principle, but the (local) education offices will finalize that depending on the circumstances of individual regions and schools,” Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said during a briefing at the government complex in Sejong.
Some 50,000 staff will be dispatched to schools nationwide to help kids maintain social distancing and enforce various health safety measures, the ministry said.
It also plans to use some 2,000 temporary teachers for young elementary school kids to help them fill the learning gap left by long-term online classes.
Outside school, the ministry is also scheduled to gradually open thousands of state-run learning centers nationwide to help poorly performing students.
“The ministry is in talks (with the health authorities) to allow school staff who are in close contact with students every day to get the (COVID-19) vaccine at an early date if possible,” Yoo said, adding that the ministry is placing priority on school nurses and day care center staff who spend long periods of time with children.
To help parents who juggle child care with work, the ministry will run more after-school classes and care centers on flexible schedules.
It estimates that around 459,000 kids in total will be covered by the plan. For disabled kids, it will support activity programs along with local universities and education facilities.
Parents who are worried about the virus can choose to school their children at home and get their attendance checked.
The new school year will begin in early March, as scheduled, the ministry confirmed. Last year, school opening was postponed twice as the country was struggling to contain the first wave of the pandemic.
The national college entrance exam, the College Scholastic Ability Test, will be administered on Nov. 18 as scheduled. Last year it was postponed by two weeks because of the pandemic.