Major School Exam Amid Covid-19 Pandemic A Test of South Korea’s Anti-Virus Strategy, East Asia News & Top Stories


SEOUL – South Korea’s anti-virus measures will be put to the test as some 493,000 students take the annual college entrance exam on Thursday (December 3).

Authorities are on high alert to help make the eight-hour exam as smooth and safe as possible amid concerns over a two-week rise in coronavirus infections, including clusters in cram schools for high school students.

The College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) is so important that public offices, banks, and stock markets will open an hour later to ensure smooth morning traffic for students.

Among this year’s candidates are 37 Covid-19 patients in hospitals and 430 in quarantine, who will travel by private car or ambulance to special testing centers.

Health officials said they took extra precautions to ensure all students can take CSAT safely and prevent the virus from spreading at testing sites.

Strict protocols are in place at more than 1,300 testing sites, such as fever checks, spaced desks with plastic dividers, and the mandatory wearing of a mask.

Students showing symptoms will take the exam in a separate isolation room, with a proctor in protective gear.

Seoul has also launched a task force to inspect some 1,800 places frequented by CSAT students, such as cram schools and internet cafes, to ensure that anti-virus rules are properly followed.

An official from the Seoul education office told the Straits Times that a major challenge was to secure more testing sites and supervisors, as the number of applicants per room had increased from 28 to 24, but “luckily, Seoul schools and teachers have been very cooperative. .

South Korean President Moon Jae-in encouraged the students, noting that “it is quite difficult to prepare for CSAT, more difficult and more worrying to take the exam during the coronavirus outbreak.”

He tweeted: “I would love to put warm scarves around your neck. We are all supporting you. Be confident. Be calm.”

Despite tightening anti-virus measures such as closing saunas and banning high-risk indoor exercise such as aerobics, South Korea has yet to significantly reduce the number of infections.

The country reported 511 new cases yesterday. That brings its total to 35,163 cases, with a death toll of 526.

The rise in the number of cases, attributed to community-wide epidemics nationwide, has shaken CSAT takers, many of whom have taken to social media to voice their concerns.

One of them tweeted: “I’ve never been so nervous … I study at home but I’m afraid I won’t be able to concentrate.” Another feared that the exam, delayed from last month, would be postponed again.

Housewife Jung In-ja, whose son follows CSAT, said this year’s students are at a disadvantage by the disruption caused by Covid-19.

“It has been a difficult year for them. Between periods of distance learning and classes at school, they have been hampered by a lack of consistency and focus,” Ms. Jung, 63, told ST. .

Ms Park Yujin, who runs a small school in Cram in Seoul with around 20 high school students, said most would rather study with her after school hours than go home, where there are too many distractions. Only four of them had opted for e-learning.

“We joke that we are afraid of Covid, but we are more afraid of failing exams,” Ms Park told ST.

She said only half of her students are well prepared, while the rest seem resigned to retaking the exam next year. “I feel sorry for them,” she said.

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