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Lack of funding prevents teachers from retiring early

Just 1 in 3 teachers that applied for early retirement in the second half of 2014 were approved, marking the lowest approval rate of all time, the Education Ministry said Sunday.

The unusually low rate of teachers granted early leave is largely due to a lack of funding earmarked for retirees, and is expected to prompt further issues including a lack of openings for new teachers.

Prior to the second semester of this school year, an all-time high of 8,212 teachers said they wanted to leave before the official retirement age of 62. The number far surpassed that of the same period in 2013, when 1,744 had applied.

Despite the surge in applicants, local education offices only allowed 2,715 ― or 33.1 percent ― to retire. While 2,386 applied in Seoul alone, only 181 teachers had successfully left school.

Generally, the approval rates for retirement hovers around 90 percent, but it took a nosedive to 54.5 percent in the first half of this year.

Budget constraints was the main reason so many teachers were refused early retirement. The Education Ministry issued 169.6 billion won ($166 million) to Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education to use for pensions and severance pay of retirees this year, but only 66 billion won was actually assigned.

The rest went to welfare programs including free care and education for preschoolers, and free lunch for middle school students.

“Normally, we can pay off about 120 people. Maybe we can increase the number by a few dozen, but we just don’t have the money for all the applicants,” said a high-ranking official from SMOE.

Seoul Education Chief Cho Hi-yeon has complained about the money shortage, claiming the SMOE needs another 310 billion won to carry out all the education programs it planned out.

The official said that some teachers literally on their deathbed are unable to retire, and thus have to be dismissed from duty.

“An acquaintance of mine made a special request to me, saying that her husband (who is a teacher) is suffering from cancer and want to quit. I tried, but there was nothing I could do to help,” the official said.

With so many teachers snubbed of retirement, problems have occurred. The SMOE official said some teachers show a blatant lack of will to work, causing issues in classrooms.

In addition, only 53 of the 990 newly licensed elementary school teachers have managed to find jobs in Seoul. One of the few who managed to land a job only months after passing her state certification exam, described it as “almost like winning a lottery.”

As a result, authorities are expected to cut down on the number of teachers they will grant licenses to in next year’s certification exam.

By Yoon Min-sik (