School entices pupils with homes

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School entices pupils with homes

The phone of a tiny elementary school in a rural town in South Jeolla has been ringing off the hook after a proposal it made last week garnered a lot more attention than initially expected.

The school, with less than 20 students, decided to provide free housing for two families who will move into the town and send their kids to the school.

“We have been bombarded with phone calls last week from parents in Gwangju, Gyeonggi, South Chungcheong and Gangwon, asking about what they have to do to be selected for the free housing,” Kim Kyung-sun, principal of Asan Elementary School in Hwasun County, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “We even got a call from a family in Canada. Due to the increasing interest in the housing, we decided to create an assessment criteria, receive applications and make selections publicly.”

The school is building two homes on the school’s grounds with funds from the local education office and county office in Hwasun.

It came up with the idea after facing a dearth of students in the town.

Even with the students of three other elementary schools in the area which have closed down, the total number of students at the school when the new semester starts next year will be just 19.

Part of the problem has to do with the aging population of the country, coupled with the record-low fertility rate.

Korea’s fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman will have in her lifetime, dropped to a record low of 0.98 in 2018.

Meanwhile, the proportion of elderly citizens is growing: Today, 14.9 percent of the population in Korea, or some 7.38 million people, are aged 65 or over, according to Statistics Korea. The number will reach 37 percent in 2045, surpassing Japan’s expected 36.7 percent that year.

Elementary schools around the country are facing less and less students enrolling every year, but schools in rural areas are especially struggling as a fifth of the country’s population is centered in Seoul.

Asan Elementary School said that the family who will live in one of the homes has already been selected. It’s a family of five, with twins entering the second grade and a kindergartener.

“We will be holding interviews for families interested in the other home,” Kim said. “The interviews will assess the parents’ efforts to settle in the town, their ideals in education and interest in integration into the local community.

“Because the selected families will be living within the school grounds, we are hoping to select a family with high interest in the affairs and the educational philosophy of the school,” Kim added.

Kim said that the selected families will be able to continue to live in the house for a period of time after their children have graduated from the elementary school, to allow more time for the families to adjust to life in the town.

“I know of some families who have tried to move into towns in the vicinity but failed because of poor living conditions in the area,” Kim said. “The government can help more people spread outside of the capital city if it builds more proper housing in rural areas.”

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