The Korea Association for Supporting Youth from Multicultural Family (KASYMF), an advocacy group for multiracial families in Korea, voiced concern Tuesday that children in such families may have limited access to online classes as some parents may not own smart devices and not know how to supervise remote learning for their children.
As part of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, overseers of Korea's education system and educators have been forced to consider changes to student learning activities.
A teacher gives a lecture during an online class at Seoul Girls' High School in Seoul, April 9. /Korea Times photo by Seo Jae-hoon
In an unprecedented move, the Ministry of Education (MOE) earlier postponed the new school year several times after unexpected infection clusters occurred among young students.
Yet despite the various strategies being employed there remain concerns over the deployment of online education and potential disadvantages for some students.
To alleviate concerns over the education authorities' ability to prepare sufficient technical infrastructure for online classes, the MOE and provincial education offices have provided smart devices and internet connections for students in low-income households. However, some students, especially from multiracial families have fallen through the cracks of this support program.
KASYMF Chairman Park Ok-sik said most multiracial families are in the low-income bracket, and therefore need support for the online classes both through the provision of smart devices such as tablet PCs or smartphones, and practical guidance in managing online education.
The organization proposes that parents receive guidance while their children are taking the remote classes. Challenges arise as many of the parents work and are often absent from home during school hours. Also many mothers in these families do not speak Korean with native-level fluency which can create communication barriers.
"Even if they are provided the devices, who can guide first to third graders at elementary schools to take the classes when most of their working parents have no choice but to leave their children alone at home?" Park said.
The problem is that multiracial children in the lower grades of elementary school (from first to third grades) can be left in a blind spot when it comes to online education. According to a survey by the association, 53.4 percent of first to third graders in such families were left at home without parents for more than an hour after school. Of those children, 19.8 percent were left unattended for more than four hours.
According to data from Statistics Korea last week, of the total 326,822 births in South Korea in 2018, 18,079 were children of multiracial families.
Park said he completely understood the education ministry's decision for the online classes considering the potential risk of schools becoming hotbeds for mass infection, but the MOE should have come up with measures for children from multiracial families as well as those from low-income groups.
"Teachers go to work at schools after all. Then why don't those children in the low-income households go to school and get some help from them by keeping the 1 to 2 meter distance in classrooms? For children, social distancing measures can isolate them from learning opportunities," Park said.
According to the education ministry, the new spring semester will commence with online classes for first to third graders, April 20, and fourth to sixth graders, April 16. Middle and high school students began classes last week.