A teacher gives an online class at Neungsil Elementary School in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, Monday, as all schools in Seoul and neighboring cities went online in accordance with the implementation of Level 4 social distancing measures amid a renewed surge in COVID-19 infections. Yonhap
By Bahk Eun-ji
Parents and teachers’ groups are criticizing the government’s plan to increase after-school childcare services for elementary school children in order to encourage more married women to work and also entice more double-income couples to have children amid a persistently-low birthrate.
Critics say, however, that what is really needed is not expanded childcare services that separate parents and children for longer hours, but a flexible office culture that enables working parents to spend more time at home with their children.
As a part of efforts to cope with a low birthrate and decreasing population, the government announced measures last week to encourage women to continue working after giving birth and even while caring for their children.
One of the measures put forward is extending after-school childcare services into the evening. In other words, children would stay at school for a longer time so that their parents can work late.
But teachers’ groups are criticizing the plan.
“It seems the government came up with the idea without much consideration, thinking parents can work longer if students stay at school for a long time,” said Jeon Hee-young, chairman of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU).
“More than anything else, the policy is not of benefit to students who will be forced to stay in the classroom for such a long time,” Jeon said.
Children walk out of an elementary school in Gangnam District, Seoul, Friday. Starting Monday, all schools in Seoul and metropolitan areas went online in accordance with the implementation of Level 4 social distancing rules. Yonhap
The Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations (KFTA) also released a statement critical of the policy.
“If we increase elementary school students’ class hours, will it lead automatically to an increase in birthrate? We need to carefully consider what is really for children, not for the convenience of adults,” said Cho Sung-chul, a spokesman of the KFTA.
He added that the government needs to make policy changes so that parents do not need to work late and can take care of their children themselves.
Parents also said that it is more important for children to spend more time with them rather than in school.
“I believe children need to spend time with their parents for their emotional development,” said Kim Jung-eun, 42, a parent of a second grader at an elementary school in Gwangjin District, Seoul.
Lee Su-ah, 39, a mother who sent her elementary school child to an emergency care class last year when her son’s school was shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak, said her son had been waiting idly or flipping through books in the classroom until Lee came to pick him up. Not wanting her son to undergo the same wasted hours again, she quit her job this year.
“The problem of population decline and women’s careers being interrupted is a matter of labor policy,” Lee said.
“Creating a working environment in which parents can freely use parental leave and coming up with practical solutions such as a flexible working system should be prioritized.”
Experts also advised that it is simply bureaucratic to think that extended after-school hours can solve childcare problems and women’s career issues.
“Increasing the time of after-school care services can be a source of pressure for children to sit and study all day long,” Chung Ik-joong, a professor of social welfare at Ewha Womans University, said, adding that even if such services are adopted, what matters is the content and activities that students can engage in during those extended hours.
“For employees with children, companies should let them use childcare leave and flexible work hours if necessary,” Chung said.