Five-day school week boon for cram schools
By Na Jeong-ju
Cho Min-yea, 16, a high school student in Gwangju, became excited after hearing that she no longer has to go to school on Saturday beginning March.
She welcomed the full implementation of the five-day school week because she thought it would ease her stress from monotonous school life. She believed there would be more time to spend with her family and friends, and learn ballet as a hobby.
However, it was just a dream.
“Most of my classmates enrolled at private cram schools to take extra English and mathematics lessons on Saturdays. I think I will have to study, too,” Cho said.
“The shortened school week means that we have to go to cram schools, instead of going to school on Saturdays. I want to play, but I can’t. I don’t want to fall behind in the competition.”
Cho posted a message on the school’s website last month to find someone to learn ballet with her, but no one replied. “Most postings were about Saturday courses at cram schools and lecturers there. It was really frustrating,” she said.
Schools initiated their own extracurricular programs for the weekends, but they drew little interest from students due mainly to their poor quality.
According to the education ministry, only 8.8 percent of students participated in the school programs on the first Saturday of March.
Parents say most schools are still unprepared for the five-day school week.
“My children went to school on Saturday, but they were only told to stay in the library. They said it was boring,” said Kim So-yung, mother of two middle school students in Seoul. “The school’s weekend programs are reading, playing soccer and riding bicycles. The school says it is impossible to increase the number of programs because teachers don’t want to work extra at school on every weekend.”
The ministry last year designated Saturdays as “sports days” at primary and secondary schools to encourage outdoor activities in preparation for the full implementation of the five-day school week. The measure was in line with calls to increase physical education for students, whose strength has dwindled over the past years.
The ministry said it would increase the number of physical education teachers and instructors to about 8,000 from the current 1,800, but the plan stalled due to the lack of a budget and interest from students.
Against this backdrop, cram schools are moving quickly to attract more students. They have set up more Saturday lessons, which are more expensive than weekday courses.
The ministry vowed Monday to launch a crackdown on private institutes bypassing rules to create expensive weekend courses, but parents doubt its effectiveness.
“Sacrifice your weekends for better scores and better future,” reads a pamphlet distributed by a cram school in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province. The school set up a three-day intensive learning program, through which students can take lessons from their preferred lecturers from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. It costs about 450,000 won ($400) a month.
The school said that up to 50 students are taking the intensive course, and the number may increase by 30 percent in April.
“The shortened school week was no doubt a much-awaited move to free schoolchildren from a heavy load of study for college exams, but the situation is much different,” said Cho Jang-rae, an activist who has campaigned for students’ rights. “Students are being forced to turn more to private tutoring during the weekends due to lack of preparations. The new system may put more financial burden on parents.”
Cho advised the educational authorities to provide more opportunities for children to boost social interactions by participating in various events in their communities, rather than focusing on study or physical education.