(ATTN: ADDS details from ministry's briefing in paras 4-5, 8-10, photos)
By Woo Jae-yeon
SEOUL, Sept. 15 (Yonhap) -- The Ministry of Education on Tuesday said all schools in Seoul and its adjacent cities will resume in-person classes next week as the spread of the new coronavirus has slowed down recently.
The move, which will be enforced until Oct. 11, was made to keep with the relaxed social distancing guidelines announced Sunday amid a recent drop in new coronavirus cases and deepening economic difficulties.
High school seniors will also switch to a hybrid approach of remote and in-person learning from 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, the ministry said.
"The ministry will closely consult with health authorities to decide on school reopenings after Oct. 12," Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said during a briefing.
"Hopefully we can further expand school reopenings if the public complies with virus restrictions during the Chuseok holiday," she added.
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 on Sept. 11, was extended until Sept. 20 to control the virus spread.
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.
The ministry said it will help schools, together with local educational offices, offer more personalized teaching to students to respond to growing concerns over widening educational gaps among children.
In order to facilitate communication between students and teachers, remote classes should run a two-way interactive session more than 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 at least once a week if virtual classes continue for a week or longer.
"The measure reflects growing demands from students and their parents for educators' attention, love and interaction, as well as for higher quality of online instruction," the ministry said.
It will also support upgrading the Wi-Fi system at schools and help replace old communication infrastructure to guarantee the smooth operation of online classes.