Time to Take Revolutionary Steps to Raise the Birthrate
Many baby boomers will never forget the jam-packed classrooms of their elementary schools. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, each classroom was overcrowded with as many as 100 children. Schools even employed a three-shift system to force students to take turns for morning, noon and afternoon classes. In those happy old days, schoolchildren often wondered if their teachers could remember all the names of the many attendants.
The classroom overcrowding was caused by a failure to build more schools to meet the soaring growth in births. But this problem has already become history for the baby-boomer generation. Now, the government and educational authorities are ever more worried about the opposite ― empty classrooms amid the decreasing number of schoolchildren. The lack of schoolchildren began to emerge in the late 1990s. This time, it is the sinking birthrate that makes schoolchildren scarcer and scarcer.
Currently, 30 or less students on average attend each classroom in primary schools in Seoul and major cities across the country. The problem is more serious with schools in rural areas where young people have left for cities. Many schools in farming and fishing villages have been shut down, while only small numbers maintain two or three classrooms. Even some open only one classroom that is mixed with less than 10 pupils ranging from first to sixth graders.
Such a phenomenon is also spreading to many urban areas. In the southeastern industrial city of Ulsan where Hyundai Motor, the nation's largest automaker, operates assembly lines, 16 of 110 primary schools reported enrollments of less than 100 students for this school year. Some are even considering closing their operations. The city said the total number of newly enrolled first graders plummeted 40 percent to 11,210 this year from a decade before.