Proportion of students struggling with math soars amid pandemic

Proportion of students struggling with math soars amid pandemic

Students sit for a test at a high school in Daegu in this 2020 November file photo. Yonhap

By Yoon Ja-young

The proportion of students who are failing to solve even basic math problems steeply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, data showed.


According to the Ministry of Education, the proportion of students who perform below the basic level expanded in last year’s educational achievement research, where 3 percent of the country’s high school eleventh-graders and middle school ninth-graders were evaluated for their Korean language, math and English skills. The evaluation is made each year.

The research confirmed for the first time, that learning deficits have been produced during the pandemic, although there already have been many testimonies from parents and teachers regarding such problems.

Among the middle school ninth-graders, 13.4 percent failed to solve basic math problems, compared with 11.8 percent before the pandemic. The figure more than doubled when it came to English skills, with 7.1 percent performing below the basic level, while only 3.3 percent did so according to the previous study.

The proportion of underperformers in math rose to 13.5 percent from 9 percent among high school eleventh-graders. The increase was especially serious for male students, with 16.3 percent of boys found to be underperforming. In English, 8.6 percent of eleventh-grade boys were seriously falling behind, compared to the 3.6 percent in the previous study.

Students were also less happy compared to before pandemic. Among middle school ninth-graders, only 59.5 percent said that their happiness level was high, which is down 4.9 percent from the previous survey.


The Ministry of Education explained that it seems students didn’t have sufficient chances to learn due to the decreased number of in-person classes, while students also had to adapt themselves to online classes. This transition made students lose self-confidence, interest and motivation in their studies, which pulled down their academic achievement as well, according to the ministry.

However, COVID-19 doesn’t seem to explain everything since students in rural areas, who had more in-person classes than students in big cities, despite the pandemic, performed notably poorer than their peers in urban areas. The results thus more reflect the fact that private education is covering the learning that schools are supposed to deliver. While city students, who have better access to private academies, have had the chance to make up for the loss in regular public school classes, students in rural areas had fewer places to go to make up for the deficit.

The ministry said it plans to expand in-person classes to make up for the learning deficiencies.

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