Almost Half Of Kindergartens In South Korea Expected To Close Due To Low Birthrate

Experts suggest strategic planning and support is crucial.

South Korea continues to face a significant challenge as its birthrate continues to decline sharply. This trend is having a profound impact on the country’s educational infrastructure, particularly affecting daycare centers and kindergartens. A recent report predicts that one-third of these institutions might close by 2028 due to the decreasing number of children.

Photo for illustrative purposes only. | CNN

According to the Korea Institute of Child Care and Education, the number of nurseries nationwide has already seen a significant decrease, falling by 21.1 percent from 39,171 in 2018 to 30,923 in 2022. Kindergartens have not been spared either, experiencing a 5.1 percent decline in the same period. This trend is largely attributed to the diminishing number of infants, from newborns to five-year-olds, a situation that is expected to worsen in the coming years.

Statistics Korea has provided alarming figures, estimating the country’s fertility rate for 2023 at only 0.72 babies born per woman. This rate, based on 2022 data, forecasts a continuous yearly decline in the infant population. A particularly concerning projection is that the number of children less than a year old may drop below 200,000 by 2026.

South Korea has the lowest fertility rate in the world. | Phys.org

The effects of this demographic change are already visible in the enrollment numbers for daycare centers and kindergartens. Daycare center enrollment has decreased from over 1.41 million in 2018 to 1.09 million in 2022. Kindergarten enrollment has also declined significantly, from 675,998 in 2018 to 552,812 in 2022, marking an 18.2 percent decrease.

The report suggests that approximately 31.8 percent of daycare centers and kindergartens, or 12,416 institutions, are at risk of shutting down over the next four years. This reduction is expected to be even more pronounced in larger cities, with projected declines of 39.4 percent in Busan, 37.3 percent in Seoul, 37.3 percent in Daegu, and 34 percent in Incheon.

Photo for illustrative purposes only. | Korea Bizwire

The closures of these institutions are not just numbers; they represent a significant challenge for the future of child care in South Korea. Particularly concerning is the potential impact on non-urban areas, which may face inadequate childcare infrastructure and exacerbate depopulation problems.

To address this impending crisis, the report emphasizes the need for support to maintain a minimum level of infrastructure for child care, especially in areas experiencing population outflows. It suggests financial support for institutions at risk of closure and designating specific daycare centers and kindergartens in vulnerable areas as essential infrastructure. Moreover, the report proposes repurposing vacant spaces like elementary schools and deploying childcare professionals to these locations to bolster infant care services.

The country marked record low fertility rate in Q2 of 2023. | Korea Herald

As South Korea grapples with these demographic challenges, the need for strategic planning and support for childcare infrastructure becomes increasingly crucial.

Source: Korea Times