The Korea Herald


No. of schoolchildren to drop below 5m by 2026

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : Feb. 12, 2024 - 13:46

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A student enters an elementary school in Seoul to attend an after-school program. (Yonhap) A student enters an elementary school in Seoul to attend an after-school program. (Yonhap)

As South Korea continues to struggle with a remarkably low birth rate, the number of school-age children is estimated to fall below the 5 million mark in just two years.

According to the latest data released by the Korea Educational Development Institute on Monday, the number of elementary, middle and high school students nationwide is expected to fall from some 5.13 million this year to about 4.83 million in 2026.

In 2029, the number of students is expected to further decline to 4.275 million, marking a fall of nearly 1 million students in five years.

This decline in the school-age population is most evident in the number of first graders enrolling in elementary school. The number of first graders, projected to be 347,950 this year, is expected to decrease to 244,965 in 2029, according to the data.

The number of first graders is also estimated to drop below 10,000 in more than half of the nation's 17 cities and provinces by 2029, as the sharp decline of population in nonmetropolitan areas continues to accelerate.

The decline is also apparent in the number of schools closing due to a lack of students.

A total of 27 schools in 17 cities and provinces in the country face a shutdown this year, the highest figure in five years, according to a report released by Rep. Kang Min-jung from the education committee in the National Assembly. This is about 40 percent more than the number of schools that closed last year.

North Jeolla Province is expected to see seven schools close this year, the most for any region, followed by six in North Gyeongsang Province and five in South Jeolla Province.