Chiayi’s low birthrate is problem for education

EMPTY SCHOOLS::The county has the second-lowest birthrate in the nation. Mini-elementary schools may soon double, before they too face closures in five years

By Tsai Tsung-shun, Wang Shan-yen and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

Wed, Jul 23, 2014 - Page 4

The steady decline in the rate of children born in Chiayi County may drastically increase the number of “miniature” elementary schools in the county before resulting in the institution being phased out altogether, forcing parents to send their children to Chiayi City to complete that part of their education, local officials say.

According to the Chiayi County County Government’s most recent census, 3,130 children were born in the region last year, less than half the number recorded a decade ago.

The county’s young child ratio was 11.97 at the end of last year, one of the lowest in the nation, the county said.

The local government cited changes to modern economic environments, late marriages and growing unwillingness to marry or to have children after marriage as the main reasons for the declining birthrate, which has fallen in all years except 2012.

That year bucked the trend because it was the Year of the Dragon on the Chinese zodiac and, according to traditional beliefs, this made it an auspicious year for children to be born in.

The county government said that the local birthrate last year was just 5.89, far lower than the 8.91 figure for the nation, adding that the county’s birthrate was the second-lowest in the nation at No. 19, higher only than Keelung’s.

If more younger couples choose not to have children, the low number of new elementary school students would cause the number of mini-elementary schools to double since there would not be enough children to fill normal-sized institutions, the county government said.

The county government defines mini-elementary schools as those with less than 50 students. The county currently has 30 such schools.

A total of 3,338 new students were enrolled in elementary schools county-wide, 2,000 less than the total number of students graduating from elementary school, the county said, adding that of the 124 such institutions in the county, nearly 50 percent — 59 — had single-digit enrolment figures this year.

Nearly 5,000 students are set to finish elementary school next year and the county estimates that only 3,000 new students are to enrol by next year. It has forecast that in five years, this trend could see mini-elementary schools face a wave of closures due to lack of students.

In comparison, Chiayi City registered 2,548 elementary-school students as of May 23 this year, only 752 less than the number of students graduating, the Chiayi City Government’s Bureau of Education said.

There was also an increase of 107 students from last year’s enrolment total, the bureau said.

According to Chiu Chiu-chan (邱秋嬋), director of the bureau’s division of education, the number of first-grade classes in the city has increased to 100, in part to accommodate the teacher-to-student ratio policy in place since 2011 and also to accommodate the Chiayi County students who come to study in Chiayi City.

Chiayi County Commissioner Helen Chang (張花冠) expressed concern at the accelerating decline of newborns in the country and called on the younger generation to try harder to have families.

Chang expressed hope that the development of the Dapumei Industrial Park (大埔美工業區) and the Ma Chou Hou Industrial Park (馬稠後工業區) would encourage more of the local younger generation to return to the area to work, as this would boost the county and city’s birthrates, effectively slowing the problems of aging populations.