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[Editorial] Five-day school week

June 15, 2011 - 18:32 By 최남현
Beginning in March next year, all primary and secondary schools will have no classes on Saturdays, putting an end to the current practice of teaching every other Saturday. The five-day workweek, which was introduced in 1998 to improve the quality of life, will have been implemented at all workplaces except for those employing four or fewer people.

To make up for the potential loss of classes resulting from this change, the government was right to decide to shorten school vacations and increase the number of hours worked during the weekdays. Scholastic achievements cannot be allowed to decline because students have all Saturdays off school.

The full implementation of a five-day school week will undoubtedly bring a big change in the lifestyle of 7 million students, 400,000 schoolteachers and their families. It will also boost business opportunities, in particular for the leisure industry and private cram schools.

According to a think tank’s estimate, the additional rest days are projected to increase the nation’s spending on tourism by 4.86 trillion won a year and create 146,800 additional jobs. This prospect reportedly prodded the administration to make its final decision in favor of having no classes on any Saturday.

But the downside is a substantial number of schoolchildren from low-income families will remain uncared for, with workplaces employing four or fewer people accounting for 18 percent of wage earners.

On the other hand, students from wealthier families may be driven to private cram schools, which are reportedly working to expand their weekend programs focusing on scholastic aptitude tests for admissions to universities. This will certainly run counter to the government’s policy of cutting spending on private education and promoting volunteer work, sports activities and recreation for students out of school hours.

The government will have to address all these problems before a new school year starts in March. Local administrations, parent organizations and advocacy groups are called on to assist the government in working on remedial actions, which should include an expansion of special care programs some schools are running for children from low-income families on off-school Saturdays.