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Korea to cut no. of teachers amid diminishing student numbers

April 12, 2024 - 15:22 By Choi Jeong-yoon
President Yoon Seok Yul visits a classroom at Ain Elementary School in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, on March 29, as a one-day special teacher, part of the government's after-school program initiative. (Presidential Office)

Amid administrative efforts to increase the annual enrollment quota for medical schools that sparked the mass walk-out of doctors across the country, the government said it would reduce the number of school teachers going forward, citing a decline in student numbers.

The enrollment quota for teachers' colleges, which has remained unchanged for 13 years, will be reduced by 12 percent, the Education Ministry said. Currently, 13 universities that train aspiring elementary school teachers take 3,847 students every year. Besides Ewha Womans University, the only private school on the list, the remaining 12 schools will be impacted by the reduction plan, which will see the annual quote reduced to 3,390 seats in 2025.

The reduction plan comes amid rising concerns over the employment of teachers, as the number of graduates from teaching colleges exceeds the number of teaching places available at elementary schools.

The number of newly hired teachers this year declined by over 50 percent compared to 2014, but the enrollment quota for related universities has remained stable over the same period. The acceptance rate for the appointment of new teachers fell to 43.6 percent this year, down from 63.9 percent in 2018.

This "appointment crisis" comes as more than 150 elementary schools across the nation had no new first graders enrolling this year. Some 369,000 children enrolled at elementary school this year, the lowest number of new first graders since the government started recording such statistics in 1970.

Meanwhile, the reduction plan falls short of the 20 percent cut that the government had originally planned. However, considering the number of freshmen dropping out of school during the semester, the government accepted colleges' requests to have a cutback remain at 12 percent. In 2022, 8.5 percent of teacher trainees left school during their first year of college.

Even with the reduction, there is still the possibility of an appointment crisis as the number of seats in training universities is expected to be higher than the number of spaces for new hires.

According to the Ministry of Education's teacher supply plan, the number of new elementary teachers will be between 2,600 and 2,900 per year from 2026 to 2027.

Though the number for 2028 and beyond has not been disclosed, given the rate of decline in the school-age population, it is unlikely to increase.

Even though the recent reduction reduces the number of students who wish to become teachers, the quota is still about 800 seats more than the availability of spaces for new hires.

"There will be room for adjustments (to the number of seats) as we continue to consider the operating status of universities, the scale of new recruitment of elementary teachers, and the rate of elementary school student enrollment," a ministry official explained.