President Park Geun-hye speaks during the Education Ministry's briefing on its five-year plan at Cheong Wa Dae, Thursday. / Korea Times photo by Koh Young-kwon
By Kim Tae-gyu
Middle school students will not have to take written examinations for one semester of their three years of study from 2016, the Ministry of Education said Thursday.
In addition, tests during the remaining five semesters will cover only three subjects - Korean, math and English - compared to the current requirement of five, including social studies and science.
As part of efforts to realize President Park Geun-hye's campaign pledge of halving university tuitions, college students from low-income families will receive substantial state subsidies starting next year.
Also under consideration is the exemption of third and younger children of large families from all college tuition fees.
"Through the exam-free semester system, we strive to enable middle school students to do more outdoor activities without the heavy burden of exams," the ministry said in a briefing to Park.
"Pilot runs will start in 37 schools this year. For 2014 and 2015, applicants can introduce the policy before all schools launch it in 2016 across the country."
Principals can select which semester will be free from exams but observers expect most schools would choose the second semester for freshmen or the first semester for sophomores.
The new policy is in line with Park's requests that the country's current educational system, which focuses exclusively on university entrance, needs an overhaul to establish creative and customized courses.
"We are required to nurture creative talents through education, which can pull out students' potential based on character education," Park said before the briefing.
"Only then will our students become happy and a creative economy be able to blossom."
A creative economy is one of Park's foremost policy goals geared toward galvanizing the slumping economy and generating more good jobs.
The education ministry also plans to offer after-school day care until 5 p.m. free of charge from 2014. From 2016, parents will be able to leave children at their schools until 10 p.m. without having to pay.
The ministry will come up with various measures to simplify college entrance formats, which both students and parents have complained are too complicated.
To support many provincial universities whose popularity continues to wane, the government will provide full scholarships to those who major in subjects designated as each university's specialty.
To tackle school violence, which Park cited as one of four prime societal evils, the number of closed circuit TVs within a 200-meter radius of schools will be increased.