But in many ways, it’s not schooling as usual.
As high school seniors returned to school Wednesday, they had their temperatures checked, wore masks on campus, and sat at desks that were spaced apart, in line with commonplace social distancing practices.
However, within hours of reopening, dozens of schools in Incheon, a city near the capital Seoul, were forced to shut again after two students tested positive for coronavirus.
South Korea — which has reported more than 11,100 coronavirus cases and 264 deaths — appears to have its outbreak largely under control. Now, the country is trying to get back to something approaching normal life.
But South Korea’s experience shows that reopening schools doesn’t mean a return to normal — and carries continued risks.
Around the region, other countries that have managed to control their outbreaks are facing similar questions when it comes to education.
A new normal for classrooms
The experience of students in Asia Pacific shows that even when countries reopen schools, that doesn’t mean a return to the old ways.
In South Korea, students aren’t all heading back at once.
South Korea’s students haven’t been in the classroom since before the spring break in February.
Wednesday was the first day back for senior high school students, but students from other grades will be returning over the next few weeks. By June 8, students of all ages are expected to be back at school.
On Thursday, the country’s Ministry of Education urged disease prevention inside and outside schools.
The risk in going back
Getting children back into school is not without difficulties.
On Thursday, a high school in the South Korean city of Daegu sent students home and closed the school after a student tested positive, an official at the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education said. According to the official, the student who tested positive was one of 17 who moved into the dorms a few days ago.
Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) deputy director Kwon Jun-wook said Thursday that schooling is something that must take place alongside disease prevention. “So we currently judge that it must continue in our current response regime, with the co-operation and participation of all our people,” Kwon said.
On May 13, authorities in Jilin, a northeastern Chinese city in a province of the same name that borders Russia and North Korea, issued a notice that all resumed classes would switch to online as the area battles with a rise in new cases.
The risk in reopening after a lockdown is something experts and leaders around the region are well aware of.
China’s top respiratory expert, Zhong Nanshan, told CNN last weekend that the country is still vulnerable to another wave of deadly coronavirus infections. “We are facing a big challenge — it’s not better than the foreign countries I think at the moment,” he said.
And when New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country was easing restrictions — including allowing children to return to school — she urged caution.
CNN’s Yoonjung Seo contributed to this story.