Parents Plead for Schools to Reopen

  • By Park Se-mi, Bae Jun-yong

    January 22, 2021 13:54

    Parents are pleading with the government to let their children go back to school after almost a year of disruption due to coronavirus.

    About a half of Korea's schools are expected to open after the winter vacation next week, but parents want more schools to open when the new semester starts in March.

    The pleas coincide with a paper published by Jeong Eun-kyeong, the director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, which said school closures had a nugatory effect on preventing the spread of coronavirus.

    Jeong wrote the paper with a team from the Hallym University College of Medicine. It was based on a survey of 127 coronavirus patients aged 3-18 years from May 1 to July 12 last year, when schools reopened.

    Only three of the patients had been infected at school, compared to about half who were infected by family members. "The evidence of the benefit of school closures in response to COVID-19 is limited, while this approach is costly at both the individual and societal levels," the authors write. "To protect children's basic rights to education, measures should be taken to keep schools open while containing COVID-19 rather than simply closing them."

    Parents are deeply worried that online learning is widening the gap in achievement between bright, self-motivated kids with good home-schooling support and the rest. But lockdown fatigue also plays a role.

    A 40-year-old parent with a fourth grader said, "My child is complaining of depression and loneliness recently because she can neither meet nor talk with her friends. The choice of students who want to go back to school should be respected."

    Some argue that the number of child patients is small and they typically have mild or no symptoms. The accumulated number of coronavirus patients under 19 stood at just 7,472 as of Thursday, a mere 10.1 percent of all 73,918 patients infected so far and the smallest among all age groups. Some 85 percent have no or mild symptoms, according to the Boramae Medical Center.

    "The infection risk won't be so high if schools make sure that all students wear masks and classrooms are well ventilated and they limit the number of students per day," said Ma Sang-hyuk of the Korean Vaccine Society. "We need to guarantee youngsters' right to education from a long-term point of view."

    However, there still strong opposition from lockdown enthusiasts. Prof. Choi Jae-wook of Korea University warned, "There could be a fresh round of resurgence if schools allow more students in classrooms, considering the recent occurrence of massive infections in various communities." 

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