SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) -- The Ministry of Education's expansion of in-person classes at schools went into effect Monday amid a growing concern over a widening learning gap and a recent drop in new coronavirus cases.
The ministry raised the attendance cap, previously at one-third for elementary and middle schools, and two-thirds at high schools, to two-thirds for all schools on Oct. 11, in line with the government's decision to relax social distancing guidelines nationwide.
The ministry said schools in the greater Seoul area, where half of the country's 51 million people live, are required to strictly follow the new mandate, while those in the rest of the country will have more leeway to adjust attendance caps depending on the seriousness of the pandemic.
In the southwestern city of Gwangju, for example, elementary and high schools with no more than 900 students and middle school with no more than 800 students are exempt from the attendance cap requirements. Thus, 153 out of 154 elementary schools, 85 out of 92 middle schools and 61 out of 68 high schools are offering in-person teaching to all students every day, with different schedules.
First graders of elementary schools, including those in Seoul and its adjacent cities, are expected to attend in-person classes almost every day to help them get accustomed to school life, which has been largely absent since the start of the pandemic in the spring. The country's academic year starts in March.
Loosening antivirus restrictions for schools also reflects a growing concern among educators and parents that a learning gap has been widening due to differences both in each child's self-directed learning capabilities and home learning environments. Working parents have been complaining that it is challenging to juggle between working and supervising children during online classes.
To reduce classroom crowding and serve more students at the same time, schools are expected to implement various measures, including staggered classes and split sessions between the morning and afternoon.