By Jung Min-ho
Korea's falling birthrate is threatening teaching jobs in public schools, education offices' recruitment plans showed Thursday.
Education offices across the country are now seeking to hire far fewer teachers for their public elementary schools than last year as enrolment continues to decline.
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said it will hire 105 elementary school teachers this year, a major drop from 846 in 2016.
"The decision was inevitable because the number of students in Seoul keeps decreasing," an official said. "Many people are on a waiting list to be assigned positions even after passing the qualification test."
Meanwhile, in Gwangju, Korea's sixth-largest city, only five people will be hired as elementary school teachers ― the lowest number ever ― down from 20 last year.
Over the past few years, the number has dropped sharply. In 2013, it was 350, decreasing to 300 in 2014, then to 125 in 2015.
The Gwangju Metropolitan Office of Education said it already has 76 people who have been waiting to be assigned to work after passing the qualification test. The office noted this year's quota, which is decided by the Ministry of Education, was slashed by 24 to 4,807 from the previous year.
The situation in other regions is not much different. For elementary school teaching jobs in Gyeonggi Province, 868 people will be hired, a steep decrease from 1,836 in 2016. In Jeju, the figure will be 15, down from 60.
For aspiring elementary school teachers, this is bad news. Many people preparing for education careers have expressed worry and anger over the offices' plans. Some are calling for a rally in protest.
The Korean Federation of Teachers' Associations, the country's largest teachers' union, also expressed concern over "excessive job cuts."
Korea's shrinking birthrate, which has been below 1.5 over the past two decades, is a threat not just to workers in elementary schools but also to those in all schools, including universities.
The Ministry of Education is expected to close Seonam University in Namwon, North Jeolla Province. In recent years, the school has been struggling to attract students. Its founder, Lee Hong-ha, has been in prison since 2013 for embezzlement.
To cope with the ever-growing issue, the government has encouraged people to have more babies with tax incentives and other financial support.
Yet the situation isn't improving. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare and Statistics Korea, the number of newborn babies this year is estimated to be 360,000, a major drop from 400,000 last year.