Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 2 News List

`Baby bust' kills system

HARD TIMES Taiwan's education system is facing a host of problems, among them a number of teachers becoming unemployed due to the falling birth rate

By Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

A sociology professor yesterday warned that the plummeting population of school-age children will vastly impact the nation's national education system in the near future, causing a large number of teachers to become unemployed and an unbalanced distribution of educational resources.

James Hsueh (薛承泰), a sociology professor at the National Taiwan University, yesterday sounded the warning in a speech delivered at a conference held by the Ministry of Education to discuss how to deal with the impact of the decreasing population of school-age children on the education system.

Hsueh said that a decreasing birthrate has become a more conspicuous trend in Taiwan and said that problems caused by the "baby bust" have gradually emerged in the education system.

According to his survey, Hsueh said, students who were born in 1985 and in 1986 are going to enroll in colleges this fall. However, the numbers of freshmen will represent a decrease of 18,000 compared with the numbers last fall, because of a decline in births that year.

Meanwhile, the number of schoolchildren who enrolled last fall showcased a more serious problem, Hsueh said.

"The numbers of the new elementary school students last fall was the lowest in the past four decades, or fewer than 300,000 students nationwide," Hsueh said.

He pointed out that the colleges and universities that mushroomed in the higher education market over the past decade would face closure and consequently many professors would lose their jobs because of the diminishing enrollment figures. The same nightmare will happen to teachers at primary and secondary schools, who will have huge difficulties finding a teaching position in the near future, Hsueh said.

"The age of the population explosion is over in Taiwan," Hsueh said.

"In terms of rate, Taiwan has surpassed many Western countries both in falling birth rates and the growing number of senior citizens," he said.

He said that it will not be a temporary phenomenon but would become even worse. Based on his estimation, by 2020 the number of children at school will be only half it is now, or a mere 150,000.

On the other hand, because of increasingly competitive pressure at school, parents will definitely invest more and more money in their single child's education, Hsueh said.

"But judging from the educational system and the economical structure, the low birth rate would lead to a situation where parents who are of inferior economic capability would not be able to afford expensive tuition and educational resources," he said.

Hsueh said that the rich will thus have more opportunities to succeed while the poor could not, especially as the poverty gap is widening in Taiwan.

"The ministry neglected to acknowledge the vast change in Taiwan's population structure when implementing educational reform," Hsueh said.

"The demographic data is supposed to be an important reference in the next stage of educational reform," he said.

Minister of Education Huang Jong-tsun (黃榮村) said that the ministry has been watching the impact of the "baby bust" trend and will carry out its plan to have small class sizes with a national budget of about NT$157 billion in two years.

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