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As South Korea grapples with inefficiencies in its education system, witnessing minimal improvements in key indicators such as wage return rates and academic performance despite an annual investment of over 100 trillion won ($75.4 billion), the country also faces issues of inefficiency and regional imbalance in its school infrastructure.
Data from the Ministry of Education on Monday revealed that, outside of Seoul and the metropolitan area, there is an average of about 20 universities in 18 provinces and cities out of a total of 336 nationwide. Notably, universities located in these regions struggle to attract students, leading to poor performance as well as reliance on tuition fees and government support for survival. For example, a university in North Gyeongsang Province has experienced a decade of poor performance, with a new student admission rate hovering around 30 percent, since 2018. This inefficiency is underscored by the fact that its campus, spanning an area equivalent to 52 soccer fields at 377,543 square meters, is a virtual white elephant.
The inefficiency and imbalance extend to elementary, middle, and high schools. This year, there are a total of 52,090,029 students and 11,819 schools nationwide. While some schools are closing due to a lack of students, others, particularly those in Seoul and the metropolitan area, grapple with overcrowded classrooms, with more than 28 students per class.
As of September 2023, the total number of closed elementary, middle, and high schools (public schools only) increased by 67 compared to the previous year to total 3,922. Among them, 2,587 have been sold, while 1,335 remain, with 358, or 26.8 percent, in a state of neglect as they cannot be leased or used.
The looming reality of a decrease in the school-age population adds to the difficulties. A joint analysis by Maeil Business Newspaper and the Federation of Korean Industries projects a decline from 7.48 million students aged 6 to 21 as of the end of 2022 to 5.84 million by 2030, assuming the current birth rate is maintained. The number of students is expected to further decrease to 3.81 million by 2040, according to the projection.
Data obtained by Representative Lee Eun-ju of the Justice Party from the Ministry of Education reveals that, as of 2022, out of a total of 236,254 classrooms in elementary, middle, and high schools, 44,764 classrooms, or 18.9 percent, were classified as overcrowded. Gyeonggi Province stands out with 67.1 percent of middle school classrooms in the region experiencing overcrowding.
By Ko Min-suh, Lee Ji-ahn
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]