Crisis hits schools

KOREA. THE COLLAPSE of South Korea's economy is forcing many of the country's students to withdraw from their high school and college courses.

With thousands of businesses going bankrupt, and more than a million workers losing their jobs, a growing number of families say they can no longer afford the cost of tuition and books.

Unemployment, or the threat of unemployment, is also being blamed for the increase in the number of family break-ups and the associated impact on children's schooling. "Family disintegration," said one school counsellor, "is having an adverse effect on pupil attitude, motivation and level of academic attainment".

Teachers and counsellors say they are also concerned about the poor physical condition of many pupils. With less money for food in some families, a growing number of children are showing signs of undernourishment and malnutrition.

In response to teachers' concerns the government has provided schools with an additional Pounds 5 million to feed children who are not able to bring their own lunches. A new law allows poverty-stricken parents to leave their children at state-run orphanages.

Teachers are also having to cope with cuts in basic supplies. A government directive urges teachers and pupils to reduce expenditure by cutting down on classroom heating bills, jotters and pencils.

South Korea's economic troubles are also affecting the academic ambitions of older high-school pupils. Family financial difficulties are forcing talented students in the provinces to live at home and attend local universities in Seoul. Some students, unable to afford the high cost of tuition and subsistence at university, are giving up the idea of higher education and looking for employment instead.

Many teachers are now concerned that the growing number of drop-outs, and the lowering of academic ambitions, is threatening the high academic standards the country worked so hard to achieve. During the past five years South Korea has ranked either first or second in international maths and science tests.

The country's impressive level of academic attainment has played a crucial role in its transformation from a rural-based agricultural economy into one of the world's leading industrial nations.

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