The Korea Herald


On verge of closing, rural school tries to lure students with financial benefits

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Oct. 31, 2023 - 15:09

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A rural district in South Jeolla Province has pledged a benefits package for families of students who joins a school in Hongdo, a small island off South Korea’s southwestern coast suffering from population drop.

Sinan-gun, the jurisdiction in which Hongdo lies, said Tuesday that it has received inquiries from over 80 households related to its planned cash incentives for new enrollees at Heuksan Elementary School’s Hongdo branch, which will graduate all three of its students in February, with no students currently slated to enroll next year.

In a desperate bid to save the school, the district promised that a household with a student enrolling in the school would be provided with a residence with at least two rooms, a job that pays about 3.2 million won ($2,370) per month and financial subsidies of 400,000 won per child. Sinan-gun said it plans to recruit four students and their families, with the plan to provide a comfortable home for them.

The district plans to invite the final 12 qualifying households to Hongdo to host a meeting with locals while showing them around the school and related facilities.

Households with more elementary students and younger students will have priority in the selection process.

“Seeing as (the policy) sparked substantial interest in the Hongdo school case, we plan to expand the plan for small schools in Heuksando and other islands,” Sinan-gun chief Park Woo-ryang was quoted as saying.

According to the South Jeolla Province Office of Education in April, 31 schools in the province did not have a single new student for the new school year that started in March.

Between the majority of the South Koreans being concentrated in the Greater Seoul area and the country’s population on a downward trend since 2020, the Jeolla provinces have suffered from a persistently decreasing population. An April report from Statistics Korea’s regional branch showed that 15,565 people left the region last year.

As of this year, 4.99 million people live in North and South Jeolla provinces and Gwangju. The population in the region peaked in 1966 with 6.57 million, and has been on a downward trajectory ever since.