Because of the increasingly low birth rate, from 2021, Seoul will close three elementary schools and one junior high school, and four high schools are also being considered for closure.
After the news that Dobong High School will close in 2024 was announced, Yoo, a student of the school, received many messages and calls of condolences from relatives and friends. “People ask me if I’m okay with the news. Of course not. But to be honest, I feel proud to be a student of Dobong and to be the last generation to graduate from the school,” Yoo said.
Dobong High School was established in 2003, located in the North of Seoul. According to Yoo, Dobong is a small school, but thanks to the few students, Yoo and his friends can better interact with the teachers. “The teachers are very caring and I also learn a lot from my classmates,” Yoo said.
However, from a socio-economic perspective, facing a long-term student shortage caused Dobong to receive a decision to close in 2024. This shows that even Seoul – a crowded and large city South Korea – not immune to population decline. Schools were closed one after another due to the falling birth rate of South Korea, which already has the lowest birth rate among the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In 2021, South Korea’s birth rate is at a record low. On average, a woman gives birth to only 0.81 children, causing a sharp drop in the school-age population. According to Korea’s prediction, the number of students in this country will decrease from 4.95 million (2035) to 4.81 million (in 2050). In Seoul alone, students in the capital will only have 900,000 left in 2021, while 2017 is 1.03 million. From 2021, three elementary schools and one middle school in Seoul have closed, while four other high schools are “under consideration as well”.
Experts say school closures are inevitable as the population continues to decline. However, they believe that the government should be more active in adjusting policies and modifying the curriculum to improve the quality of education when the number of students decreases.
“Over the past decades, children have been taught by cramming because of the high student/teacher ratio. Society has changed a lot, and the government should invest more in education now. It’s time to come. at the time of radical reform of education policies,” said Song Gi-chang, a professor at Sookmyung Women’s University. According to the professor, universities also need to reduce the number of students per class, increase investment in pedagogical schools to train more teachers.
Hong Hoo-jo, a professor at Korea University, suggests “specializing” schools, rather than closing them down. “Providing specialized programming to high schools is more important than closing schools arbitrarily. Schools can attract students with specializations in diplomacy, business, healthcare, or the arts.” Professor Hong said.
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