When President Moon Jae-in assured the public that the supply of jobs will expand for all, many citizens were hopeful. However, the honeymoon of this blissful promise only lasted until the acceptance rates for public school teachers started to dwindle. Many found it ironic that the very government which supposedly kept a stable supply of jobs as a priority has been the one employing fewer people for the education department. However, should the notion of government responsibility be imposed when it comes to increasing employment in the public sector?
During the summer of 2017, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that the number of new elementary school teachers for the year 2018 would be 3,321 people, which is 40.2 percent less than the previous year. The decrease in the employment rate for public school teachers has placed many students attending normal universities* in turmoil. The media has voiced the opinions of individuals, especially those who are studying education specific to teaching, who are understandably opposed to the decision. Many people in the online communities complain about how the government made test takers hopeful regarding the acceptance rates. Others claim that it should be the government’s duty to be responsible for the lives of education-major students.
Nevertheless, one must ask whether it is even healthy for the government to be the one directly providing for the lives of individuals who belong to a certain education faction. The fact that students who major in Education are seemingly demanding a position in public schools is a demand for privilege. What one studies should not entitle them to a stable future. However, it is important to note that the previous administrations have kept a rate of employment where teachers were hired in numbers more than needed, which has led to a growing number of wait listers. The current administration, therefore, has to deal with both the wait listers and the current test takers. This has not been an easy process, as the dilemma has been handed down from the former administrations.
The major cause of the decrease in appointment rate is due to less demand for teachers, given a steadily increasing supply of graduates from normal universities. For those who have dedicated their four undergraduate years to learn how to teach children, this news is horrendous. It now means that their chances of attaining their desired profession have decreased significantly. For students who have studied majors such as Elementary School Education, it is difficult to switch to another field without forsaking their years of dedication.
Nonetheless, given that the number of students, specifically elementary school students, has been decreasing, the MOE’s hands are tied. In fact, the number of elementary school students has decreased by 459,634 children from 2011 to 2016. This phenomenon is only natural given that South Korea’s fertility rate has been on a dramatic decline. What is even worse, as mentioned earlier, is the fact that there exists a total of 3,817 waitlisted teachers as of July, 2017. Therefore, from the perspective of the current administration, maintaining the number of new teachers will only create backlash, especially given a reduced number of students enrolled in school.
Ultimately, the government does have great responsibility regarding this issue. However, it should also be understood that there are no clear-cut solutions as to how employment problems for public school teachers can be solved. No matter how personal and pressing this issue is for those who study Education, increasing the number of test takers is not a viable solution for now. It is not only the government, but society as a whole, who should look for methods wherein both parties’ interests and necessities are met halfway.
* A school dedicated to train individuals to become teachers.