While the fertility rate in the US continues to fall, birth rates in other countries are literally plummeting. In South Korea, the situation is so dire that rural schools are running out of children to teach. In the face of a declining student body, one school came up with an ingeniously heartwarming solution: Teaching illiterate grandmothers how to read.
South Korea’s birth rate is one of the lowest in the world. Last year, it was at less than one child per woman. That means babies are an “increasingly rare sight” in rural areas, New York Times reports.
In one rural district’s elementary school, Daegu Elementary, attendance has shrunk from a few hundred students in the 1980s to 22 students total.
This year, the school simply could not find a first-grade student to enroll, so they turned to another population in need of education: elderly women. These are women who never got the chance to go to school as children.
Hwang Wol-geum is a 70-year-old first-grader. She’s been dreaming of becoming literate for many years.
“Writing letters to my children, that’s what I dreamed of the most,” she told the Times.
Every morning on her way to school, one 1st grader rides the same yellow bus as 3 of her family members: One is a kindergartner, another a 3rd grader and the other a 5th grader.
That 1st grader is 70 — and her schoolmates are her grandchildren. https://t.co/coEXDE7nJm
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 28, 2019
Ms. Hwang says she cried tears of happiness on her first day at school.
“I couldn’t believe this was actually happening to me,” she said. “Carrying a school bag has always been my dream.”
Another student, 75-year-old Park Jong-sim, is determined to do well in school despite the challenges of her age.
“My memory, hand and tongue don’t work like I wish,” she said. “But I am going to learn to write before I die.”