Declining Birth rate and schools

Superflous classrooms

An elementary school with 36 classes opened this March in Jukjeon, a newly developed residential district in Yongin City, south of Seoul. But it is to be closed just one semester after opening. The reason: the number of students is too few. When it opened, there were only eight students enrolled.

In 1999, the city’s educational office estimated the demand for elementary schools in Jukjeon, which was to house some 20,000 apartments. It judged the area needed eight schools based on an old estimate of students per household. This estimate dated from the early 1990s and naturally did not reflect the downward trend in birthrate.

As a result, as of this April, the eight elementary schools in Jukjeon had 122 classrooms more than they needed. This amounted to 44 percent of their entire classrooms. According to the Board of Audit and Inspection, just six schools were enough for the area. By building two surplus schools, some 30 billion won in taxpayers’ money was wasted.

The board recently audited the Education Ministry and the educational offices of provinces and metropolitan cities. To sum up its findings, the educational authorities have built too many elementary schools in disregard of the drop in school enrollment resulting from the low birthrate. As a result, a significant portion of the educational budget was simply thrown away.

According to the board, the total enrollment at elementary schools began to fall in 2002. But the ministry has been implementing a school expansion plan which was formulated in 2001, a time when enrollment was still growing.

Under the plan, 373 elementary schools have been newly opened across the nation since 2002, with 493 more scheduled to open by 2008. The number of surplus classrooms more than doubled between 2001 and 2004, exceeding 6,000.

Furthermore, if the expansion plan is implemented without modification, the board predicted that the number of superfluous classrooms will surge to 14,000 in 2011, assuming that the number of students per class and teacher is maintained at the level now prevalent in advanced countries.

By any standard, the school expansion plan cannot be seen as carefully drafted. The Education Ministry needs to scale it down promptly to reduce waste of taxpayers’ money. At the same time, it needs to adjust its equally problematic teacher fostering program.

According to the board, the Education Ministry worked out a teacher supply plan in 2003 aimed at lowering the number of students per teacher to 18. The plan called for securing 6,000 elementary school teachers each year.

But the board says this plan also failed to reflect the drop in school enrollment. According to the board’s estimate, annual demand for teachers will be 4,000 at most from 2010. This means the admission quota of the nation’s teacher’s colleges, which totals 6,225 now, needs to be cut by more than 2,000 from next year. Otherwise, about 3.5 out of 10 students who enroll these colleges next year will graduate four years later only to find no teaching job is available for them.

The Education Ministry should have adjusted its plans for school expansion and teacher supply in line with the expected decline in the number of students. Its failure to do so amounts to incompetence and negligence of duty