Working parents in S. Korea are grappling with extended school closures as the coronavirus outbreak is showing no signs of abating.
In an unprecedented move, the government on Monday postponed the start of the spring semester of all schools by an additional two weeks, adding to the woes of parents who are struggling to adjust their work schedules to look after their kids.
Some 20,528 kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools across the country will kick off the new school year on March 23, three weeks later than initially planned. The government pushed back the date twice as the country reported the fastest growing number of COVID-19 cases outside of China.
“The next two weeks are crucial to curb the growth of the coronavirus infections. Even after a downturn, one more week is needed to ensure a safe environment for students,” Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said, announcing the second postponement.
She said there were a total of 201 underage patients, accounting for 4.8 percent of Monday’s total 4,212 cases.
Kindergartens and elementary schools will run emergency child care services for working parents, the minister added.
For those who take unpaid leave to look after their children, the Labor Ministry plans to give out a daily subsidy of 50,000 won ($42) per each parent for up to five days. Some 90,000 households are expected to benefit from the measure.
The Education Ministry also plans to offer online educational resources and digital textbooks for distance learning at home to fill the void of regular classes.
Despite such supportive programs, parents are avoiding sending their child to day care centers fearing virus infection among students.
“There used to be more than 10 children. But after the outbreak of the coronavirus, my son is one of two who attends class as other working moms prefer their mother-in-law or babysitter to limit the potential of virus exposure,” said Seo Hyun-ah, a 40-year-old working mother, who has been sending her 9-year-old son to his elementary school’s day care program since last year.
In fact, 44 percent of those who had applied for emergency child care services actually sent their children to the program, apparently due to concern over people-to-people transmission, according to Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. Out of 602 primary schools in Seoul, 576 offered the service on Monday.
The online course, which starts next Monday, is another burden for her.
After a long day at office, she will have to set aside time to watch her son taking an online session until he finishes. “It will almost double the difficulty.”
On Tuesday, the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations welcomed the postponement of the new school year, calling it an “inevitable choice” to protect the health and lives of students and teachers.
It called for measures to shut down for-profit cram schools as students can flock to such institutes during the lengthy vocation which will negate the rescheduling of the start of schools, it said in a press release.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org