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Songdo’s student population surges

Schools struggle to handle influx as area’s prestige keeps rising

July 18,2015
Lunch time at Shinjeong Middle School in Songdo International City, Incheon, is hectic. All 1,400 students at the school must take turns to eat in a cafeteria, which can only seat 360 students at a time, and finish within 70 minutes. By Choi Mo-ran
Lunchtime at Shinjeong Middle School in Songdo International City in Incheon is 70 minutes. That’s 20 minutes longer than the lunch period at other middle schools, because there are only 360 seats available in the cafeteria for all of its 1,400 students.

“We’ve been contemplating extending the lunch period even more, but doing so could interfere with afterschool classes as well as the school’s timetable, which makes the decision more complicated,” said Lee Jae-chun, the principal.

Many middle schools in Songdo struggle with overcrowded classes. The average number of students per class at Shinjeong Middle School is 39.8, closing in on almost 40 students per class. The four middle schools in Songdo have an average classroom size of 35.1 students.

Comparatively, the average number of students per class at other middle schools in Incheon is 31.7.

But positive reviews about the education programs at the schools in Songdo have fueled the city’s large student population.

That upward trend began when Chadwick International, an international school with an advanced educational curriculum for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, opened in 2010 in Songdo. And in March, the Posco Educational Foundation also established a private high school there, making it the second autonomous private high school in the city after Chadwick.

As the middle schools in Songdo rose in nationwide scholastic achievement assessments, proving to be formidable matches to the middle schools in Gangnam District, a prosperous district in southern Seoul known for its quality education, parents living in Seoul began to take notice.

“After considering the educational options in Gangnam and Songdo for my son, who is currently in middle school, and my daughter, who is in elementary school, I decided to move to Songdo because I figured it was a scholastic environment,” said Choi Ji-yeong, 49, who is originally from Mok-dong in Yangcheon District, western Seoul.

Middle school assignments are based on students’ proximity to a school, which can drive families to move to different places for academics, and Choi is just one of many who have moved their families to Songdo to take advantage of the educational facilities.

Approximately 5,622 families are anticipated to move to Songdo between June and October this year alone.

“Half of the people moving to Songdo are doing so for their children’s education,” said Mun Hyeong-eun, the CEO of Songdo Jeil Real Estate Agency.

That interest has also driven up apartment prices.

“Apartments near middle schools are 40 million won to 50 million won ($35,000 to $43,000) more [than others in the area],” Mun said.

But while Songdo has seven different elementary schools, there are only four middle schools in the city, and demand far outstrips what is available.

“Some parents, who cited that they moved [to Songdo] just to send their children to school [here], have even filed civil complaints,” Kang Won-jin, the principal at Haesong Middle School, said regarding the difficulty in adding more students at already overpopulated schools.

Haesong Middle School and Shinsong Middle School in Songdo have faced a variety of new obstacles due to their large student populations. Both have placed restrictions on schoolyard use, for example, because the average number of students per classroom at each exceeds 37.

As a result, Songdo’s middle schools and the Incheon Metropolitan City Office of Education eventually set a limit on the maximum number of students per class ? 40 ? a measure that was implemented last year.

Shinjeong Middle School is also no longer accepting transfer students.

Yet academic interest in Songdo persists, so much so that the Incheon Metropolitan City Office of Education has plans to establish a new middle school in Songdo by 2017, and move Neunghudae Middle School, currently located in Yeonsu District in Incheon, to Songdo by 2018.

However, the plan has yet to be confirmed, and city council members and other critics believe that school overcrowding will only worsen if Neunghudae Middle School is moved into Songdo.

“People keep moving to Songdo for the city’s education programs, but there aren’t enough schools to accommodate demand,” said Park Han-jun, president of the residents union for Songdo. “We must secure the addition of more middle schools as soon as possible.”

BY CHOI MO-RAN [enational@joongang.co.kr]


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