South Korea implements intensive college entrance exam measures amid COVID-19

It’s a chilly, silent Thursday morning. Thousands of students warmly dressed in padded jackets, hasten their steps to schools which have been closed and disinfected for a week in lead-up to a momentous event in South Korea: the national college entrance exam.



a person standing in front of a window talking on a cell phone: A student wearing a face mask prays before the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.


© Kim Hong-ji/AP
A student wearing a face mask prays before the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.



a group of people standing next to an umbrella: Parents pray during a special service to wish for their children's success in the college entrance exams at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.


© Ahn Young-joon/AP
Parents pray during a special service to wish for their children’s success in the college entrance exams at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.

The exam, officially called the College Scholastic Ability Test, provides South Korean students a final report card for the public education they received from elementary school through high school. The results of this annual exam play a big part in determining to which university students can apply.

But this year, with COVID-19 upending traditional protocol, exam inspectors dressed in hazmat suits greet applicants with hand sanitizers and thermometers.



a group of colorful graffiti: A woman hangs on a paper note to wish for her child's success in the college entrance exams at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.


© Ahn Young-joon/AP
A woman hangs on a paper note to wish for her child’s success in the college entrance exams at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the exam day would be filled with exuberant cheering squads at the school gate, and parents handing out snacks or praying outside the school until the exam ends.

In fact, the entire nation celebrates the event. Authorities clear air traffic to make sure the exam’s listening sections are done in a silent environment. Businesses, including the stock market and public facilities, also open an hour late so students can make it to their test sites in less traffic.

(MORE: KCheering crowds greet South Korean students taking make-or-break college entrance exams)

This year, however, is different. Social distancing and a heavy focus on hygiene have replaced the celebrations.

“My daughter is taking the exam for the third time, and I am just relieved that she wasn’t diagnosed with COVID-19,” Kim Migyeong told ABC News. “Our whole family was nervous that one of us may be infected without symptoms and spread to our daughter, already exhausted with a long-term prep for examination.”

“I wish for the best, although this year high school seniors have had a hard time taking classes online and staying home to avoid COVID-19 infection,” Michelle Oh, who stood in front of Yangjae High School to send her son off to take the exam, told ABC News. “I saw on the news that confirmed patients can also take the exam, but there aren’t any alternatives for university interviews, so it’s best to avoid the virus.”



a group of people sitting at a table: Students wearing face masks wait for the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.


© Kim Hong-ji/AP
Students wearing face masks wait for the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.

This year, authorities have prioritized preventing cluster infections from inside test sites.

At the entrance of each site, supervisors

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Behind screens and in hospitals, South Korea students sit college exam amid coronavirus

SEOUL (Reuters) – Nearly half a million South Korean students took university entrance exams on Thursday, with COVID-19 students sitting in hospital and others separated by transparent screens.

South Korea is battling a third wave of coronavirus infections and authorities have taken strict steps to ensure all students can safely take the test, deemed a life-defining event for high school seniors to win a degree that could help land a good job.

Police and school officials guarded some 31,000 test venues across the country, which in normal years are usually filled with praying parents and cheering squads distributing hot drinks and snacks.

“It’s my second test, and I just wanted to get it done despite the risks of contracting the coronavirus. That’s all I was thinking about coming here,” Jeon Young-jin, 19, told Reuters in front of a test venue in Seoul.

Of the 491,000 applicants, 45 confirmed COVID-19 patients sat for the test at designated hospitals, while special rooms were provided to help another 616 who were in self-isolation. Almost 65,000 did not show up, marking the highest-ever absence rate at 13.2%, the education ministry said.

Proctors for the confirmed and suspected cases were required to wear protective equipment and collect exam papers in plastic bags and wipe them before handing over to the staff outside.

At a high school in central Seoul, students lined up for temperature checks and disinfection before entering the venue, and transparent barriers were installed at all desks, according to video released by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.

Won Seon-hun, father of a high school senior, said he had not even had a meal with his son over the past week though he minimised outside activity due to coronavirus concerns.

“My wife bought all the groceries online, and I never went out except for work – no friends’ gatherings, just staying home,” Won said after sending off his son.

The test is a major event in South Korea, with businesses and the stock market opening later than usual to reduce traffic for test-takers, while flights from airports are suspended for a brief period during a language listening test.

The annual exam came as South Korea grapples with a resurgence of coronavirus outbreaks, with the number of daily cases hovering around 500 over the past couple of weeks, a level not seen since March.

The government has tightened social distancing curbs, and declared a two-week special anti-virus period ahead of the exam.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 540 new cases on Friday, including 516 domestic infections and 24 imported.

Authorities were vigilant as more than 81% of the locally transmitted infections, or 419, were from the capital Seoul and surrounding areas, a record high since South Korea confirmed its first case in January, KDCA data showed.

The country’s total tally rose to 35,703, with 529 deaths.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Soohyun Mah, Daewoung Kim and Minwoo Park; Editing by Michael Perry and Angus MacSwan

S

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Key test: South Koreans sit university exam amid COVID-19 surge | South Korea

Nearly 500,000 high school students are sitting the test with stringent measures imposed to curb the virus.

South Korea fell quiet on Thursday as hundreds of thousands of students sat for the country’s high-stakes national university entrance exam amid a surge in coronavirus cases that has prompted new measures to curb its spread, including for candidates sitting the test.

Teenagers spend years preparing for the exam, which can mean a place in one of the elite colleges that are seen as key to future careers, incomes and even marriage prospects.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has added to the pressure – delaying and disrupting the school year and at times forcing all classes online.

At the elite Ewha Girls’ Foreign Language High School many students arrived on their own or with their test-taking friends and some parents seemed more nervous than their children. Tightened curbs following a wave of new cases meant students were banned from cheering on their classmates at the school gates as they arrived for the exam.

“I’m actually quite relieved now that it’s all going to be over soon,” said 18-year-old Kim Chae-eun.

“This exam is important because Korean society makes you study your whole life up till this point for this one exam.”

Only parents were at the school gates because students were banned from cheering on their classmates because of coronavirus restrictions [Jung Yeon-je/AFP]
The annual College Scholastic Ability Test, is a high-pressure standardised entrance exam, that can set the course for young South Koreans’ future careers [Jung Yeon-je/AFP]

South Korea brought its outbreak under control earlier in the year with an effective system of  “trace, test and treat”, but in recent weeks new cases have surged again.

On Thursday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced 540 new cases, bringing the country’s total caseload to 35,703, and the authorities have warned measures might need to be tightened further if cases are not brought under control this week.

The country operates a five-tier social-distancing system and greater Seoul – home to approximately half the country’s population – was put on Level 2 on November 24 as cases began to rise.

The exam itself is a particular concern, with nearly 500,000 pupils gathering in test centres across the country.

Students were checked on arrival and those showing temperatures of 37.5 Celsius (99.5 Fahrenheit) or higher – or other coronavirus symptoms – had to take the test in a separate, designated area.

Plastic see-through dividers were set up on each desk and students were required to wear masks throughout the test.

All candidates were advised to refrain from gathering and talking during breaks, with exam rooms to be ventilated after each session.

Quiet, please

The exam itself was delayed for two weeks due to the earlier disruptions to teaching, as all high schools across the country returned to online classes for a week to try and prevent school clusters.

“It will be even more difficult and worrisome to take the exam in the coronavirus

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South Korea holds high-stakes college exam amid COVID-19

For eight hushed hours Thursday, a second-floor hospital room at the Mokpo City Medical Center at the southwestern tip of South Korea will be transformed into a test center — not for the coronavirus, but for admission to college.

Five hospital beds have been wheeled out, making way for a lone school desk. Nurses clad head-to-toe in white protective suits, goggles and masks will take turns serving as proctors. At the center of it all will be an 18-year-old high school senior with the coronavirus, taking the most important exam of her lifetime.

South Korea is forging ahead with its annual nationwide college entrance exam, despite unease over rising coronavirus infection rates. Nearly half a million students are set to take the test Thursday as the rest of the country grapples with a third wave of COVID-19 cases, with daily infections hovering around 500 in recent weeks.

In this hyper-competitive society where college admission is seen as predetermining many facets of one’s life, including jobs, income and social status, the exam is a tense affair even in a typical year. Companies delay their commute so students can get to test centers on time, the stock market pushes back its opening bell by an hour, and planes stop taking off so as to not interfere with listening-comprehension sections.

Add to the mix a raging pandemic, and you have a nation on edge about whether the test is putting students, their families and the entire country at risk and whether the seniors will get a fair shot at the high-stakes exam. The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on their academic calendars and caused outbreaks in several of the country’s myriad cram schools, where students spend long hours in test prep.

“It’s such a big turning point in life. How you do on this exam really changes your future,” said Yang, a 20-year-old test taker who asked to be identified only by her last name. “The psychological pressure is immense.”

A worker disinfects a test center as a coronavirus precaution for the upcoming college entrance exams in Seoul.

A worker disinfects a test center as a coronavirus precaution for the upcoming college entrance exams in Seoul.

(Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press)

Among those taking the exam Thursday will be 35 students who have tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as an additional 387 who are being required to isolate after coming into contact with a known patient, according to the Ministry of Education. They will take the exam at two dozen hospitals around the country, including the one in Mokpo, or separate test centers for those in quarantine, with no more than four students per room, officials said.

Yang, who is taking the annual test a third time for a shot at a higher-ranked university than the one she got into last year, recalled how nerve-racking the test day was in her first two attempts. She said she couldn’t imagine having to take it in a hospital room.

“This is an unprecedented situation for the students, the schools, the parents. Everyone is anxious,” she said.

High school seniors aren’t the only

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Pandemic widens learning gap in education-obsessed South Korea

A teacher prepares lesson with a cell phone on the first day of online class in an empty classroom as South Koreans take measures to protect themselves against the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) at Seoul Girls High School on April 09, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea.

Chung Sung-Jun | Getty Images

Students in South Korea like elsewhere are taking online classes off and on, studying from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

When South Korea began its delayed school year with remote learning in April, that spelled trouble for low-income students who rely on public education, get easily distracted and cannot afford cram schools or tutors used by many in this education-obsessed country.

Students like Han Shin Bi, who struggled to concentrate.

“Online classes were really inconvenient,” said Han, a high school senior in Seoul. “I ended up with a bad grade (in an exam) because I didn’t really focus on studying while online. It was a blow.”

Like legions of other students around the world, kids in South Korea are struggling with remote learning, taking online classes off-and-on from home as the nation battles the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts say the reduced interaction with teachers, digital distractions and technical difficulties are widening the education achievement gap among students in South Korea, leaving those less well off, like Han, at even more at a disadvantage.

Students who were doing well before the pandemic, often from middle- and upper-class families, have an easier time keeping their grades up and plenty of family support if they run into trouble.

In South Korea, Asia’s fourth largest economy, which university you attend can determine nearly everything about one’s future: career prospects, social status and even who one can marry.

“One’s academic background doesn’t always match his or her capacity. But an incorrect view that they are the same is prevalent in this society,” said Gu Bongchang, a policy director at the World Without Worries About Shadow Education, an education NGO in Seoul.

A government survey of 51,021 teachers released last month showed about 80% of respondents saw a widening gap between their strongest and weakest students. To address the problem, the Education Ministry has hired part-time instructors to help 29,000 underprivileged students at elementary schools. Some teachers have been assigned to work one-on-one temporarily with about 2,300 high schoolers who are struggling.

With teachers mostly posting prerecorded lectures online, Han couldn’t ask questions in real time, and her family cannot afford to hire a tutor or send her to a cram school, like most of her friends.

“I don’t want to compare myself with others,” she said. “But If I had had lots of money, I think I could have learned many things (after school) … and I actually wanted to learn English and Chinese at cram schools.”

Even some model students say distance learning is tough.

“I felt I was trapped at the same place and I got lots of psychological stress,” said Ma Seo-bin, a high school senior at an elite, expensive foreign language

Read more

Pandemic widens learning gap in education-obsessed S. Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — When South Korea began its delayed school year with remote learning in April, that spelled trouble for low-income students who rely on public education, get easily distracted and cannot afford cram schools or tutors used by many in this education-obsessed country.

Students like Han Shin Bi, who struggled to concentrate.

“Online classes were really inconvenient,” said Han, a high school senior in Seoul. “I ended up with a bad grade (in an exam) because I didn’t really focus on studying while online. It was a blow.”

Like legions of other students around the world, kids in South Korea are struggling with remote learning, taking online classes off-and-on from home as the nation battles the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts say the reduced interaction with teachers, digital distractions and technical difficulties are widening the education achievement gap among students in South Korea, leaving those less well off, like Han, at even more at a disadvantage.

Students who were doing well before the pandemic, often from middle- and upper-class families, have an easier time keeping their grades up and plenty of family support if they run into trouble.

In South Korea, Asia’s fourth largest economy, which university you attend can determine nearly everything about one’s future: career prospects, social status and even who one can marry.

“One’s academic background doesn’t always match his or her capacity. But an incorrect view that they are the same is prevalent in this society,” said Gu Bongchang, a policy director at the World Without Worries About Shadow Education, an education NGO in Seoul.

A government survey of 51,021 teachers released last month showed about 80% of respondents saw a widening gap between their strongest and weakest students. To address the problem, the Education Ministry has hired part-time instructors to help 29,000 underprivileged students at elementary schools. Some teachers have been assigned to work one-on-one temporarily with about 2,300 high schoolers who are struggling.

With teachers mostly posting prerecorded lectures online, Han couldn’t ask questions in real time, and her family cannot afford to hire a tutor or send her to a cram school, like most of her friends.

“I don’t want to compare myself with others,” she said. “But If I had had lots of money, I think I could have learned many things (after school) . . . and I actually wanted to learn English and Chinese at cram schools.”

Even some model students say distance learning is tough.

“I felt I was trapped at the same place and I got lots of psychological stress,” said Ma Seo-bin, a high school senior at an elite, expensive foreign language school near Seoul. “What was most difficult is that I didn’t have my friends with me so it was hard to be dedicated to my studies.”

When South Korea resumed in-person classes in phased steps in May, authorities let high-school seniors return first to let them prepare for the national university entrance exam in December — a crucial test in their lives. Younger students

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Pandemic Widens Learning Gap in Education-Obsessed S. Korea | World News

By HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — When South Korea began its delayed school year with remote learning in April, that spelled trouble for low-income students who rely on public education, get easily distracted and cannot afford cram schools or tutors used by many in this education-obsessed country.

Students like Han Shin Bi, who struggled to concentrate.

“Online classes were really inconvenient,” said Han, a high school senior in Seoul. “I ended up with a bad grade (in an exam) because I didn’t really focus on studying while online. It was a blow.”

Like legions of other students around the world, kids in South Korea are struggling with remote learning, taking online classes off-and-on from home as the nation battles the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts say the reduced interaction with teachers, digital distractions and technical difficulties are widening the education achievement gap among students in South Korea, leaving those less well off, like Han, at even more at a disadvantage.

Students who were doing well before the pandemic, often from middle- and upper-class families, have an easier time keeping their grades up and plenty of family support if they run into trouble.

In South Korea, Asia’s fourth largest economy, which university you attend can determine nearly everything about one’s future: career prospects, social status and even who one can marry.

“One’s academic background doesn’t always match his or her capacity. But an incorrect view that they are the same is prevalent in this society,” said Gu Bongchang, a policy director at the World Without Worries About Shadow Education, an education NGO in Seoul.

A government survey of 51,021 teachers released last month showed about 80% of respondents saw a widening gap between their strongest and weakest students. To address the problem, the Education Ministry has hired part-time instructors to help 29,000 underprivileged students at elementary schools. Some teachers have been assigned to work one-on-one temporarily with about 2,300 high schoolers who are struggling.

With teachers mostly posting prerecorded lectures online, Han couldn’t ask questions in real time, and her family cannot afford to hire a tutor or send her to a cram school, like most of her friends.

“I don’t want to compare myself with others,” she said. “But If I had had lots of money, I think I could have learned many things (after school) . . . and I actually wanted to learn English and Chinese at cram schools.”

Even some model students say distance learning is tough.

“I felt I was trapped at the same place and I got lots of psychological stress,” said Ma Seo-bin, a high school senior at an elite, expensive foreign language school near Seoul. “What was most difficult is that I didn’t have my friends with me so it was hard to be dedicated to my studies.”

When South Korea resumed in-person classes in phased steps in May, authorities let high-school seniors return first to let them prepare for the national university entrance exam in December — a crucial test

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