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[Editorial] Quality Education in the Low Birth Rate Age

Posted February. 08, 2010 09:08,   


In response to the rapid decline in student enrollment stemming from Korea’s low birth rate, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education yesterday decided not to build new schools from 2014. The office will instead move existing high schools to areas that need them. The number of high school students in Seoul is expected to decline from 359,000 this year to 318,000 in 2013. If no action is taken, the capital will see empty classrooms and teachers with no students to teach.

Statistics Korea said the country’s school age population is expected to decline from 7,328,000 this year to 5,457,000 in 2018 and to 4,515,000 in 2030. The number of school-age students in 2030 will comprise under 60 percent of that of 2007 (7,873,000). This means forty percent of schools in the city will become redundant. The number of schools and teachers in Korea are lower than the averages of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. If the Korean government increases those numbers without a prudent plan, however, a glut of schools and teachers could result. The task is how to wisely deal with the rapid decline in students.

If the number of schools and teachers continues to grow at the pace of the last five years, it will reach the OECD average in the middle of this year, but demand for teachers and schools will rapidly decline afterwards. In 2030, the number of schools will rise 50-60 percent more than the OECD average and that of teachers will double. So consolidation or realignment of schools is needed and teacher hiring should be frozen. If not, an oversupply of schools and teachers will cause massive waste and national inefficiency.

Cutting the number of schools and teachers is tough, however. School relocation and consolidation will face opposition from residents and alumni associations. Prestigious high schools in Busan and Gwangju are planning to move to new cities, but their alumni associations oppose this. The plan to reduce the number of elementary school teachers faces fierce opposition from students at teacher colleges. A teacher with no students has no reason to exist, however. So fundamental steps are needed, such as fewer freshmen at colleges of education and the consolidation of education and teacher colleges. Also necessary is a law encouraging private schools to relocate through incentives. The focus of public school education down the road should be on enhancing student performance and increasing college entrance rates instead of quantitative expansion such as more schools and teachers.