Seoul schools fight to fill classroomsElementary schools in Seoul are struggling to fill their classrooms as the number of schoolchildren diminishes year by year.
Soaring living expenses have contributed to the nation’s plunging birthrate in recent years, as more couples opt to have only one child. The number of students in elementary schools has shrunk to nearly half, with 599,000 students in 2009, down from the city’s record high of 1.18 million students in 1982, according to statistics released by the Seoul Metropolitan Government yesterday.
“There were 62 students in a classroom in 1982 and last year the number plunged to 29,” said Kang Byeong-ho, a senior official with the Seoul city government’s information system planning bureau.
“There’s a widely used saying to describe overcrowded classrooms, ‘kongnamul gyosil’ [which literally translates as ‘bean sprout classroom’], but that’s become a dated term,” Kang said. “This is an era in which schools should work to attract students.”
Kang points out the low birthrate is the primary reason for the decline in the number of elementary school students in Seoul.
“Women between 14 and 49 are at the age where they can reproduce and their average total fertility rate was 0.96 last year,” Kang said. “That is one-third the fertility rate in the 1970s, when it was 3.05. That is why the number of elementary school students continues to decline.”
The city government said the number of elementary school students will continue falling, and estimated the number will drop to 492,000 students in 2014, from an estimated 568,000 in 2010.
Meanwhile, Kang said the gap between the number of senior citizens and elementary school students will continue to grow, and suggested the city craft policies for the older generation.
Last year, there were 936,000 people over 65 in Seoul. The city estimates there will be 1.14 million senior citizens and 492,000 elementary school students in the city by 2014.
By Kim Mi-ju [firstname.lastname@example.org]