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### Extending After-School Programs: Ministry Announcement

South Korea has revealed its intentions to significantly expand after-school care services and revamp educational initiatives for elementary school students as part of its efforts to address the country’s declining birth rate.

The Ministry of Education unveiled a new plan on Wednesday to extend the operating hours of before and after-school childcare programs in elementary schools. The programs will now run from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and conclude at 8 p.m., marking a substantial extension compared to the previous schedule.

Previously, around 50.3 percent of students had access to after-school programs that ended no later than 7 p.m. With the implementation of the new plan, the government aims to roll out the extended program in approximately 2,000 elementary schools during the first semester of this year, with the goal of expanding it to all elementary schools nationwide by the second semester. Initially limited to first graders, the program is set to encompass all elementary students interested in participating by 2026.

In addition to the extended hours, the ministry will introduce a specialized educational program tailored for first-grade students, offering a diverse range of after-school activities such as sports, arts, and mental health support programs. These two-hour sessions will be provided free of charge to ease the burden on working parents.

To prevent teachers from shouldering the entire responsibility of after-school care, the government plans to establish a dedicated organization solely focused on managing after-school programs.

Education Minister Lee Ju-ho announced during a briefing on Wednesday that over 2,250 substitute teachers will be assigned specifically for after-school programs in the first semester of 2024. By the following semester, at least one staff member will be designated to oversee after-school operations, aiming to alleviate the workload on teachers. Local communities and universities will collaborate to offer relevant programs, with the government aiming to redefine the roles of school teachers and after-school services by 2025.

Furthermore, the government intends to streamline the oversight of nurseries and kindergartens under the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education, respectively, in a bid to harmonize childcare and education management while bridging existing gaps between institutions.

In a move towards enhancing the education system for children aged 0 to 5, the ministry plans to consolidate the management of early childhood care and education under the Ministry of Education by June. This initiative will involve establishing financial and personnel transfer plans to facilitate the integration of local organizations under city and provincial education offices. The government will also identify 30 organizations to serve as pilot projects for the unified model.

Moreover, strategies are being devised to attract foreign talent by collaborating with local governments, universities, and companies to provide internships and bolster support for specific career pathways. The Education Ministry is set to establish 10 centers in major cities like Los Angeles, Tokyo, Osaka, and Tashkent to offer counseling services and structured programs for foreign students.