[VIEWPOINT]Boot camp for the old folks?

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[VIEWPOINT]Boot camp for the old folks?

People might ask, “Why a ‘fifties military academy’ all of a sudden out of the blue?” Some may mistake this as a training school set up by conservatives who miss the era of former President Chun Doo Hwan. That is not the case though.
According to the Korea National Statistical Office, in twenty years’ time we will become an aging society with over 20 percent of Korea’s population consisting of people 65 years of age or older. Some agricultural districts already have an elderly population of over 20 percent, so we can imagine how the whole country will change when such an aging society spreads from those rural areas to all corners of the country in 20 years’ time.
Once our society becomes an aging society, the younger part of our population will be comparatively fewer than the elder population, so the pressure of having to support our elders will increase drastically. Let us try a calculation.
More than 90 percent of high school graduates go to university now, and it is realistically quite hard to get a job if you are over the age of 60, so we could say that the age range of people who actually make money is from 25 to 60. This year, 2004, there are 25.36 million people in this age range and 6.09 million people over 60 years of age. Therefore it can be said that four or more people support one elder.
But in 2025, the number of people in the money-making age range will decrease by 100,000, while the number of people over 60 will more than double, to around 13.59 million. So the calculation is that there will be less than two younger people to one elder who needs support.
What needs to be done? The fundamental reason why our society is aging so rapidly is because of the low birth rate, but it is realistically difficult to suddenly raise the birth rate. The solution lies in expanding the age range of employment and thereby decreasing the number of old people in need of support.
The problem is that at a time when employment is difficult for young people in their twenties, there is concern as to how people in their sixties are going to find employment. If things continue to go as they are going now, it will be difficult. That is why we need a “fifties military academy.”
A “fifties military academy” is basically a re-education program to make people in their fifties as capable as if they were in their thirties again. This would lead people to continue to work as if they were in their middle ages even when they reach their sixties. The idea is not to just stop at thinking that “age is just a number,” but to make it a reality.
Yet why a military academy? The aim is to create gallant workers with stamina, brave hearts and knowledge, transcending age barriers, just like military academies train people to have a balance of wisdom, virtue and physical strength.
This is my personal view of how the fifties military academy should be. The main goal is to change oneself into a human resource with the physical strength, confidence and knowledge of someone in his 30s. This program will put emphasis on physical training, because a healthy body gives a person the confidence and passion for work. Students in their fifties will go through thorough personal training as well as group training for a time, between six months to a year, depending on the results of their physical examination. They will ultimately have the physical strength to even make it through a special combat soldier training progam.
The most important thing of all, however, is training of the heart. The mental heaviness of the number 50 needs to be blown away. Those in their fifties will receive training to make them think they are young, show the sensibilities of a thirty-year-old and resolve to work for at least another twenty years.
Lastly, education will allow them to take in new knowledge, including knowledge of the information technology field, for instance, and vocational training. Students will stay at the academy on weekends and attend classes once or twice a week at night on weekdays.
The fifties military academy should be managed by private education programs that can enhance the creativity of the trainees. It is desirable that the government support them. Taking into account the gains of a decrease in the number of aged people needing government support and more collectable taxes thanks to a working population in their 60s, it is only natural that the government support the operation of the academy.
It could be retorted that the fifties military academy would be good for nothing if no employers were ready to employ the graduates. However, the reason why employment for the older generation is hard right now is because they have low psychological and physical productivity. If they are molded into new workers with young bodies and hearts through re-education, there will be many jobs available.
Who would decline a “young man” who can move quickly through the workplace on a pair of inline roller skates?

* The writer is a professor of economics at Sogang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Nam Sung-il
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