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Gov't urges 'hagwon' to close, join anti-virus fight

All News 15:01 March 06, 2020

By Lee Minji

SEOUL, March 6 (Yonhap) -- In its latest tactic to combat the new coronavirus, South Korea on Friday again asked private sector cram schools to temporarily suspend classes to prevent group transmissions.

The move comes in line with the government's recent decision to push back the new school year by three weeks to March 23 to prevent COVID-19 infections in schools and communities.

South Korea has so far reported 6,284 cases, the largest outside of China, where the virus first emerged.

Most of the cases trace to mass transmission in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby North Gyeongsang Province as well as minor clusters in churches and hospitals across the country, raising the need for "social distancing" in group facilities.

Health workers disinfect a private sector art class in the southern port city of Busan on March 6, 2020. (Yonhap)

While child care facilities, kindergartens and schools across the country have suspended classes, the cram schools, also known as "hagwon" here, have remained in the gray zone as they are private-sector institutions.

On Friday, the education ministry ramped up its demand for the private sector cram schools as data showed that more than half of hagwon and other private education facilities are still in operation.

The ministry said it plans to team up with provincial governments and local education offices to inspect large hagwon next week on their safety and hygiene conditions and consider announcing the names of institutions where infections have occurred.

As of Thursday, 42.1 percent of 86,435 hagwon nationwide and 45.7 percent of 40,437 other private education facilities have suspended classes to stem the new coronavirus, according to education ministry data.

While around 90 percent of hagwon in Daegu and 76 percent of the cram schools in North Gyeongsang Province, two locations that have been pounded by the virus, have suspended classes, the numbers were much lower in other areas.

The data showed that business was usual at two-thirds of hagwon in Seoul, as well as 85 percent and 80 percent of hagwon in Incheon, just outside of Seoul, and Jeju, the country's southernmost resort island, respectively.

A hagwon for people studying to work in the government in Seoul's Noryangjin neighborhood is empty on Feb. 25, 2020, after classes were suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Yonhap)

The government, meanwhile, also announced that it will "actively seek" support measures for hagwon that are suffering from the virus outbreak.

The education ministry plans to provide special funds or low interest rates for loans together with state-run financial firms. Funds will also be given to hagwon that retain their staff despite difficult business prospects, according to the ministry's press release.

The hagwon industry has called for additional support measures, such as tax breaks, to minimize losses from the longer-than-expected virus outbreak.

"Students can opt for online lectures or private tutoring even if they don't go to hagwon. Illegal teaching at venues like study cafes or quasi-hagwon is already happening," the Korea Association of Hakwon said in a March 4 statement.

The organization that represents various hagwon across the country asked the government to also tighten inspection of illegal tutoring and visits to internet cafes. It also asked for a industrywide tax break on last year's revenues.

mlee@yna.co.kr
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