South Korea is notorious for its highly competitive and grueling education system, which forces young children to study from early in the morning until late at night. The official school day runs from just 8am until 4pm, but students typically leave campus for “hagwons,” private tutoring institutes, where they continue studying until late at night (and sometimes even into the morning hours).
In mid-August, South Korea's Gyeonggi Province decided to delay the start of the school day by one hour, hoping to allow children more sleep. This new “9am late-start system” has provoked a nationwide debate, and several other provinces are now considering similar policies.
The response online has been divided. Some Koreans say the “reform” merely restores school hours that used to be in place. Others have expressed concerns that over-zealous parents will still find ways to abuse the news system, presumably by finding new tutoring in the early morning hours.
9시 등교 논란은 고속도로에서 100km/h 지키자는 사람한테 과속하던 운전자들이 미쳤냐고 따지는 꼴
— 알이z웰! 스카이콩콩 (@FugioErgoSum) August 26, 2014
Those people who call the 9am late-start system a controversy — it's like watching drivers who go over 100km per hour on the highway criticize the sane ones who drive under the 100km/h limit, calling THEM crazy.
Both posts below have attracted more than 1,300 retweets.
개소름인게 9시 등교한다니까 그럼 애들 학습 능률 떨어진다고 7시 전에 깨워서 한시간 두시간동안 구몬 학습지 같은거 풀게할거라고 아줌마들이 웃으며 밖에서 이야기하고 있음 미친 것 같다…
— 십만온 가고싶다 공삼 (@roree03_u) August 16, 2014
What gives me goosebumps are these soccer moms chatting about the 9am late-start system. I overheard them talking, all giggling, that the late-start might undermine effective studying. Now they will wake them up before 7am and put them to work on their prep books or something. They are insane.
의외로 9시등교를 안달가워하는 애들이 많더라구요.. 늦게 시작해서 늦게 끝나면 안그래도 모자라는 개인시간이 더 부족해지니까. 주5일제 시행할때는 수업시수를 맞추느라 방학을 줄였고, 정말 필요한건 과한 수업시수를 줄이는 거라고 생각하는데ㅋㅋㅋ
— 브라운하엘 (@HAPPY_LOVEGAZER) August 20, 2014
Actually there are many kids who oppose the 9am system, as it would likely push regular school hours later, cutting into students’ already limited free time. When schools switched from a 6-day school week to a 5-day week, for instance, vacation times shrunk, because the number of mandatory total school days remained high. The total number of mandatory school days is what needs to be reduced.
The controversy about the later start time isn't entirely about students’ wellbeing, of course. Many of the worries have more to do with parents’ work schedules than children's studying. Indeed, according to one survey, over 73 percent of students like the new change, while only 56 percent parents are in favor.
9시 등교를 하게 되면 맞벌이 부부가 곤란하다는 건 알겠는데 뉴스 인터뷰에서 ‘맞벌이라 반대'라고 말하는 엄마를 보자 난감한 느낌. 일찍 등교해야 하는 아이를 위해 보완책을 세워 달라든가 요구를 해야지 자신의 사정 때문에 ‘반대'라니 이상하지 않나
— 살 빼야 날으는 원더우먼 (@artemizhb) August 18, 2014
I fully understand that double-income parents have a hard time adjusting to the 9am system. But I was left a bit perplexed, watching a mother on the morning news tell reporters that she opposes the new system “because she works.” She could have demanded that schools find something else for kids to do before the school day, but opposing it just because it's inconvenient is ridiculous.