I am very glad to meet the superintendents of education from across the country. I have been looking forward to meeting all of you from early on, but our meeting has been long delayed. There are a lot of concerns about COVID-19 with the back-to-school season approaching. I believe our superintendents of education are probably more anxious than anyone else. I would like today’s discussion to focus on COVID-19 as well as safety measures for schools and students. In particular, I hope to hear many unvarnished accounts from the field of education.
Protecting the safety of children is the most important task of the Government and educational authorities. I am grateful to municipal and provincial offices of education for having been meticulous and responsive in addressing the current situation while making child safety the top priority.
Staying in close communication with the Central Disaster Management Headquarters and the Ministry of Education, municipal and provincial offices of education have been swiftly delivering guidelines to schools about who should be put under home quarantine and when classes should be canceled. They have also provided face masks, hand sanitizers and other infectious disease prevention and control supplies to schools and had a precautionary leaflet translated into 13 different languages for foreign students and families with multicultural backgrounds.
Teachers and students are prevailing over COVID-19 at school by caring for each other with warm hearts. The coronavirus outbreak has changed the landscape of graduation ceremonies, but the touching anecdote about the elementary school principal in Daegu who sent hand-written letters to every single graduating student has warmed our hearts and moved us.
Korean friends are posting messages on social media to cheer up international students from China who are unable to return to school. Children are also helping their friends regardless of nationality and language, providing firm support to each other. I am truly proud of these mature aspects found within the field of education. I extend my gratitude and encouragement to everyone. Once again, I express my respect to all the superintendents who are spearheading such a mature educational sector.
The number of schools canceling classes or postponing the start of the new semester is decreasing, but children’s safety comes before anything else. The Government has front-loaded 25 billion won from the budget to disinfect schools and purchase infectious disease prevention and control supplies. I ask for your extraordinary attention and support so that unscheduled disinfection can be conducted in all possible kindergartens as well as elementary, middle and high schools before students are back to school and that schools are sufficiently stocked with such infectious disease prevention and control supplies as masks and hand sanitizers.
I urge you to communicate closely with schools so that they can thoroughly educate students about such important hygiene as washing hands and wearing face masks. I’d like you to promptly address the needs of educators while cooperating in lockstep with the Ministry of Education, the Central Disaster Management Headquarters and schools until the situation is brought to an end.
Even now, over 40 percent of the schools that have canceled classes or postponed the beginning of their semesters are running their usual extended after-school daycare programs for pre- and elementary school students. I ask you to show special interests so that as many after-school daycare programs stay open as possible should any parents, especially those who both work, request it. It would be desirable to have unified national standards or guidelines put in place for canceling classes or closing schools, including kindergartens, entirely.
On the occasion of the COVID-19 outbreak, we intend to make tangible changes in terms of school safety this year that can be felt by the people. With the cooperation of municipal and provincial offices of education, air purifiers will be installed in all school classrooms by the end of this month, easing worries about fine dust.
If we can keep students safe from the COVID-19 outbreak, confidence in public education will be further enhanced, creating an environment in which parents can entrust their children. I ask you to pool your strengths so that the regular curriculum for each class can be covered normally while prioritizing safety.
Today, I was briefed that the number of confirmed cases sharply increased. The infections seem to be related to the 31st confirmed patient who caused considerable concern yesterday. It is necessary to establish reliable regional defenses in local communities by drastically strengthening the system to respond to contagions within communities. Infectious disease prevention and control measures have to be further reinforced at places vulnerable to infections such as hospitals and nursing homes as well as churches and other public facilities. I ask you to work together to come up with appropriate responses while paying close attention to how the virus spreads in local communities.
If people develop any of the related symptoms – even if they have no history of traveling to high-risk regions or contact with confirmed cases – I urge them to trust medical professionals and actively cooperate with examinations, diagnoses and treatments while thoroughly following hygiene guidelines. I ask you to keep in mind that this is the best way to protect not only oneself but also each family and local community.