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[Editorial] Multicultural children

Schools, military should be prepared to better cope with demographic changes

The proportion of babies born into multicultural families accounted for 5.5 percent of all newborns in South Korea last year, marking the highest since the state statistics office began compiling related data in 2008.

According to data released by Statistics Korea last week, as many as 18,079 mixed-heritage children were born in the country in 2018, with the whole number of births 326,822.

The increasing population of multicultural children, whose numbers now exceed 200,000, should be welcome for a nation that sees its future being overshadowed by a falling birthrate coupled with a rapidly aging population. Over the past years, Korea’s birthrate has remained the lowest among major developed states, with its population, estimated to reach 51.7 million this year, aging at the fastest pace in the world.

Last year, the country’s birthrate -- the average number of children a woman is expected to bear in her lifetime -- hit a record low of 0.98, far lower than the replacement level of 2.1 needed to maintain a stable population.

According to the statistics agency, the proportion of working-age people -- those aged 15-64 -- in Korea is projected to decrease from its peak of 72.9 percent in 2016 to 49.7 percent in 2060. The core working-age population aged 25-49 has already shrunk since 2006.

With various measures designed to raise the birthrate having proved ineffective, it is more necessary than ever to educate younger generations to become more competitive and adaptive to society. With regard to this, more attention should be paid to the need to take better care of children from multicultural families.

They should be educated to become good citizens. With their multicultural backgrounds, they might grow up to play a valuable role in making Korean society more diverse and inclusive.

To our regret, the reality is far from ensuring this.

Nearly all multicultural children enter elementary school, but only about 70 percent of them go on to attend middle school. The proportion of multicultural students who have graduated from high school is estimated to be far below 50 percent, with few of them having the chance to attend university.

Most of these undereducated children will likely end up being jobless, with little hope for their future.

Unless this worrying situation is addressed in a serious manner, it will become yet another cause for social instability. Some rural communities, where nearly all newborns are children born between Korean husbands and immigrant wives, may collapse altogether.

Consistent and persistent efforts should be made to allow children from multicultural families to receive proper education that could help them lead a happy and meaningful life and contribute to enhancing the harmony and prosperity of our society.

The country’s education system needs to cope with the changing demographics of students in a consistent and positive way to ensure that Korea will transform into a harmonious multicultural society.

A key step in this direction is to revise school textbooks that give the impression that multicultural families are abnormal. This perception should be abandoned and replaced with a more positive view. Efforts should be stepped up to instill multicultural elements into school curriculums to encourage students to adapt to changes in society.

This enlightened education should lead to reducing and preventing ill treatment of multicultural children at school.

Surveys show that about 30 percent of children from multicultural families have experienced bullying and other forms of discrimination by their peers. Even teachers sometimes hold prejudice toward these children, who may appear to be slow in learning and express themselves poorly.

A measure to help them keep up with lessons may be to provide more substantial support for immigrant mothers to encourage them to pass at least elementary school qualifications. This achievement would help them nurture and inspire their children.

The military is also required to assume a more significant role in building a harmonious multicultural society.

A growing number of male children from multicultural families are set to serve their mandatory military duty. The proportion of draftees who are of mixed heritage will continue to increase in the years to come, as the country is planning to reduce the number of its troops in a move to address looming demographic challenges. The number of young people subject to military service in the country is projected to drop from 360,000 in 2016 to 225,000 in 2025 and 161,000 in 2038.

If proper preparations are made, barracks can be expected to serve as a melting pot to enable youths with multicultural backgrounds to mingle and forge friendships with fellow soldiers while carrying out their duties together.
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