Seoul's educational authorities plan to push back the start time for elementary and secondary schools to 9 am to improve students' health and reduce their study burden.
"(The new policy) is expected to help students develop a healthy living pattern. We also hope it will boost academic efficiency by providing the students with adequate rest and sleeping hours," Seoul Educational Superintendent Cho Hi-yeon said at a news conference Monday.
The change was first adopted by Gyeonggi Province in Sept, sparking a heated dispute among educators, parents and politicians.
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will hold debates with schools this month on the proposal to delay school opening times beginning in March.
Currently school start times range from 8am to 8:40am.
Up to 1.16 million students in 1,345 elementary, middle and high schools in the city may be affected by the optional time change.
Some local education offices headed by progressive educators in North Jeolla Province, Jejudo Island and Gwangju are also planning to adopt the change. With the nation's most populous city following suit, it is likely the trend will spread across the country.
The late school hours policy has been a hotly debated issue in education circles, with authorities and teachers' groups at loggerheads over its pros and cons.
Progressive educators argue that the late school hours will be beneficial to sleep-deprived students.
Conservatives argue that the supposed positive effects are questionable. They have also criticised the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education for carrying out the new measures without schools' consent. Cho said that the criticism of the unilateral decision is why he decided a citywide debate was needed before finalizing the process.
"Personally, I think unifying the school hours (to start at 9am) would be fine but I am keeping an open mind for middle and high schools," he said.
Lee Yong-hwan, who heads the department of elementary education at SMOE, said that the office is likely to provide a guideline on the ideal number of students, parents and teachers that will participate in the decision-making process.
Another problem that the GPOE faced was that the late school hours have inconvenienced working parents who have to drop off their children at school. In response to this issue, Cho said SMOE would devise various before-school programs utilizing the existing resources, including schoolyards and libraries.
Due to budget constraints, the SMOE said it does not yet have plans to financially support the schools for the new measure.