Students at colleges of education are protesting a government plan to sharply reduce the recruitment of elementary school teachers next year.
Last year, the government passed 846 of those who took certification tests to work at elementary schools in Seoul.
This year, it plans to reduce the number of successful test takers to 105.
Nationwide, the figure has been cut from 5,764 last year to 3,321 this year.
In Gwangju, just five certifications will be issued this year.
The usual ratio of test takers to certifications issued was about 1.2, but competition among aspiring teachers will be much tighter this year.
Hundreds of students rallied in Seoul on Friday to protest the massive cut in entries for new teachers starting next year.
The primary responsibility for the situation lies with the local education authorities that failed to adjust their manpower needs.
Each year, education districts estimate their respective demands for new teachers and report them to the Ministry of Education, which then determines the number of new teachers to be recruited.
Anyone can see that demand for teachers will be on the decline, because the nation’s school age population has been decreasing due to the low birth rate.
Nevertheless, the education authorities had not bothered to adjust teacher demand – leading to a sharp reduction this year.
Education districts and the Ministry of Education blamed each other. The districts argued the final say lies with the ministry, while the ministry denounced their wrong forecasts.
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education pointed the finger at the previous administration’s drive to create jobs for youth. Shifting blame for its mistakes to the previous government is an irresponsible excuse.
The abrupt excess in teacher supply is a result of the education authorities putting off what they should do.
Of course, cutting back on the employment of new teachers might have been difficult amid a strong government-wide push to increase employment.
And yet the education authorities should have done what they had to do. They should have curtailed teacher recruitment and adjusted university enrollment accordingly.
Dawdling has caused the current employment crisis.
Both the ministry and education district offices deserve criticism for aggravating the problem.
Currently, 3,817 successful test-takers, including 988 in Seoul, are on standby for appointments to elementary schools. The teacher oversupply is serious.
Some education university students suspect that teacher recruitment next year was slashed to convert irregular part-time teachers to regular teaching staff as President Moon Jae-in vowed as an election pledge.
The Moon government has placed a high priority on creating jobs in the public sector.
He has vowed to increase public-sector employment by 810,000, including hiring 15,900 new teachers, during his five-year presidency.
Moon argues more teachers are needed to introduce a credit system for high schools, which requires students to earn credits to graduate as college students do, and a co-teaching system involving two teachers in one classroom.
What if teaching jobs keep disappearing due to the low birth rate? Expanding co-teaching to three or four teachers in one classroom is impractical.
Elementary schools are not so congested with students.
The ratio of students to teachers is 16.9, smaller than 17.1 for Japan, 19.4 for France and 19.6 for Britain.
There is an estimate that there will be a surplus of about 20,000 qualified teachers over the coming decade.
The policy to employ about 3,000 new teachers a year even as teacher demand is declining is beyond comprehension. Greatly increasing the number of teachers in this situation may close down recruitment opportunities altogether in the future.
Expanding teacher supply amid a decreasing demand will cause problems. Then, the government should be more prudent about expanding the public-sector employment.
Once civil servants and public enterprise employees are recruited, their wages will rise each year, and a pension has to be paid to them after retirement.
All of their wages and pensions come from taxpayers’ money.
If public-sector jobs are added without correct demand forecasts, future generations cannot help but bear the burden.