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Students in greater Seoul return to school as virus slows, learning gap widens

21 September 2020 21:19

SEOUL. KAZINFORM Students in Seoul and its surrounding area returned to school for in-person learning Monday as new coronavirus cases have declined recently.

The measure, which will remain effective until Oct. 11, was introduced following the relaxed social distancing guidelines amid a recent drop in new coronavirus cases. It also reflects worries over the widening learning gap, Yonhap reports.

High school seniors, who have been excluded from the government's school reopening measures, also switched to a mix of remote and in-person learning Monday, as they are wrapping up the normal academic schedule and seriously gearing up for the national university entrance exam slated for December. Schools are allowed to decide what form of instruction they will offer for high school seniors.

All students in the metropolitan area have been attending virtual classes since Aug. 26, due to a surge in virus cases. Earlier this month, the measure, originally scheduled to end Sept. 11, was extended until Sept. 20 to further tame the coronavirus.

Schools around the nation are required to run with antivirus limits. Attendance is capped at one-third in elementary and middle schools and two-thirds in high schools to guarantee social distancing.

But some regions with relatively small caseloads, such as Jeju Island, can relax the cap to less than two-thirds.

South Korea carefully instituted a phased reopening of schools, starting May 20, amid a slowdown in new cases. Since then, in-person school sessions have been on and off depending on the level of the pandemic.

Schools are required to offer more personalized teaching to mitigate growing concerns over widening educational gaps among children.

To enhance communication between students and teachers, online classes should run a two-way interactive session at least once a week, and have mandatory greeting sessions through instant messenger applications or web conferencing tools like Zoom. Teachers are required to talk with parents weekly, if virtual classes continue for a week or longer.

In a report released on Monday by the ministry, 79 percent of 51,021 teachers surveyed believed that a learning gap among students has widened and that it was mainly due to a difference in their self-directed learning capabilities.

Reducing the gap, the respondents said, required in-person instruction (37.8 percent), followed by the provision of an online platform to check up on individual competence and academic progress (31.18 percent).

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