south korean villages
While rural schools in South Korean villages are facing closings, communities are trying to find solutions to keep them open. Next spring, local school Nogok Primary will close after its only enrolled student graduates, 12-year-old Chung Jeong-su. For the one student enrolled, it costs more than $87,000 per year to keep the school running.

In South Korea, 93 percent of students graduate from high school on time compared to 81 percent in the United States, an average considered among the best in the world.

“Villages around here have no more children to send,” the school’s only teacher, Lee Sung-kyun said. “Young people have all gone to cities to find work and get married there.” Located 110 miles east of South Korean’s capital, Nogok is a typical farmland town where farmers tend to potatoes, beans, and red peppers.

In the aftermath of the Korean War, farmers found premier education as a ticket to freedom for their children to escape poverty. By sending their children to Nogok Primary, students graduated and earned wages that were significantly higher than their parents.

Along with other Nogok Primary youth, recent high school graduates began moving to big cities where they could pursue university or receive higher-paying jobs. This demographic shift hit rural towns, including the Nogok community.

In 1960, the population of Nogok was 5,387. In 2010, the town reported a population of 615. That year, only 17 were primary school age. Since 1982, nearly 3,600 schools have closed across South Korea due to lack of enrollment.

“It’s a sorry sight,” said Mr. Baek, a graduate of Nogok Primary. “When I was a student here, 300 children were crawling all over there, giving weeds no time to grow.”

While the country has an excellent education system, rural South Korean villages are suffering, creating a larger gap between the rich and the poor. With the 13th largest economy in the world, South Korea’s rural towns have taken initiative, starting campaigns to save their schools. Some solutions include hiring buses to transport children from neighboring towns and providing free housing for families moving to the rural towns with school-age students.

Continued efforts give villages hope they can bring another generation of students back to the once prospering population.

Alexandra Korman

Sources: ABC News, The New York Times, U.S. Department of Education
Photo: Google Images