Posts

Education in North Korea
North Korea is a prime example of a hermit kingdom and one of the last remaining communist states. The centralized ideology and oppressive domestic policy closed the society off from the rest of the world, shrouding itself with mystery. How is it possible for the Kim dynasty to maintain its ruling power for so long despite international skepticism? The answer may lie in the careful censorship and indoctrination of the education that shapes the minds of its citizens. Here are the top 10 facts about education in North Korea.

10 Facts About Education in North Korea

  1. Education in North Korea is free and mandatory until the secondary level. North Korea requires students to attend one year of preschool before enrolling in four years of primary school, known as “people’s school.” Depending on their specialties, the students will proceed to either a regular secondary school or a special secondary school from the ages of 10 to 16.
  2. The North Korean education curricula consist of subjects in both academic and political matters. Subjects such as the Korean language, physical education, mathematics and arts make up the majority of instruction in people’s school. North Korea devotes over 8 percent of instruction to the teaching of the “Great Kim Il Sung” and “Communist Morality.” The teaching of these political subjects comprises 5.8 percent of instruction when students get to senior middle schools.
  3. Education in North Korea has claimed the highest literacy rates in the world. There are statistics that claim that all North Koreans over 15 years of age have a 100 percent literacy rate. However, actual statistics might be lower.
  4. Children learn to love and believe in the godlike virtues of the ruling Kim family as early as kindergarten. By the age of 5, North Korean children devote two hours each week to learning about their leaders. By the time they get to secondary school, students spend six classes per week on the subject. The schools and textbooks often tell outlandish stories about the Kim family to deify them. For example, one story tells of how Kim Il-Sung made grenades with pinecones, bullets and sand. Another story tells of how Kim Il-Sung used teleportation when he annihilated the Japanese.
  5. A lot of education in North Korea is propaganda. The system indoctrinates citizens into the system and teaches them to idolize the Kim family as revolutionaries. Distortion of history is another means that the government uses to legitimize the dictatorial regime and accentuate the claims of North Korean greatness. With the careful censorship of outside information, it is not difficult for the regime to change contemporary Korean history or to glorify the Kim family.
  6. Admission to universities is selective and competitive in North Korea. Only students who receive recommendations from their instructors are able to continue their studies at the university level. To receive recommendations, the students must have good senior middle school grades, be from a desirable social class and show high loyalty to the party. Those without recommendations instead go to work in the farms or mines or join the military.
  7. Students start learning foreign languages in secondary school. The most common language is English and then Russian. As the government deems the textbooks from the United Kingdom and Russia as containing too much “dangerous” information, North Korea uses its own textbooks. However, the quality of education is poor as the textbooks have poor writing and include mistakes. Students learn phrases such as “Long live Great Leader Generalissimo Kim Il-sung” before “Hello, how are you?”
  8. Education in North Korea continues even for adults. In rural areas, North Korea organizes people into five-family teams. Schoolteachers or other intellectuals supervise the people for surveillance and educational purposes. Office and factory workers also have to attend study sessions after work each day for two hours. They have to study both technical and political subjects.
  9. North Korea has a special purpose school for children from the elite class and gifted children. Depending on their specialties, children enter one of the four types of schools for special purposes. These include the revolutionary school (also known as the elite school), schools for arts and sports, schools for foreign language and schools for science.
  10. Private tutors or other forms of paying for education in North Korea is technically illegal. The state only trusts itself to properly indoctrinate the young minds into the communist regime. However, since the famine in the 1990s, families have had to provide some type of payment for teachers in order for them to show up to work. This can involve paying money, providing firewood or helping teachers harvest crops. Tutoring has evolved within the grey economy of North Korea as a means for state-school teachers to make ends meet. The regime is willing to turn a blind eye as long as the teachers are not too ostentatious about it.

These top 10 facts about education in North Korea shows the important role of education in indoctrinating citizens and instilling in them unconditional loyalty to the regime. As long as education in North Korea continues to be this way, it is likely that the nation will continue to suffer from the tyranny and suppression from its great leaders.

– Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

Education in North Korea

Formal education in Korea began during the Three Kingdoms period, influenced by the Chinese educational system. In 1882, King Kojong issued an edict upholding education as a “pillar” of Korea. Thus formal education in Korea opened its doors to both men and women of all classes.

In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly referred to as North Korea, education is entirely government-controlled. Education is required of all citizens for 11 years until the secondary level. Moreover, the education system in North Korea is based around socialistic ideals. Classes focus on the Korean language, mathematics, literature and government. These are the top 10 facts about education in North Korea.

Top 10 Facts About Education in North Korea

  1. Both primary and secondary schooling are required and free in North Korea. First, children go through one year of kindergarten. Then, they attend primary school, known as the “People’s Schools,” from the ages of six to nine. Afterward, they attend a secondary school which depends on their specialties. Secondary schooling continues from the ages of 10 to 16.
  2. North Korea is one of the most literate countries in the world. According to UNESCO, North Korea’s literacy rate is 98-100 percent. However, a self-reported number like this is questionable, considering the amped statistics coming out of North Korea.
  3. The literature read by North Korean students is carefully censored. Most writers remain obscure and their biographical details are concealed. Stories usually revolve around upholding socialism and the care the Kims have given the literary world. For example, “The Fifth Photograph,” by Lim Hwa-won, is told from the perspective of a woman who visits post-Soviet Russia in the early 1990s, only to witness a country failed by western influence.
  4. Women’s education is one of the more progressive aspects of North Korean schools. Secondary education and beyond is equally accessible to both men and women. In the late 1950s, the government initiated the “Chollima” campaign, which worked to more efficiently mobilize the population. As such, women were taught that emancipation came through labor, socialized childrearing and helping to build a socialist North Korea through productive work. Women make up over 80 percent of elementary teachers and 15 percent of college professors. There is no available information regarding the wage scale between men and women. However, one source from a Michigan State study states the wage is usually fixed making men earn more. Women also tend to quit their jobs after marriage.
  5. The curriculum in North Korean schools focuses on the Kims. A study by the Korea Institute for Curriculum Evaluation finds students spend 684 hours learning about the current leader Kim Jong-Un, his father Kim Jong-il, his grandfather Kim Il-sung and his grandmother Kim Jong-suk. North Korea states its education system is for “students to acquire the concept of revolution and endless loyalty toward the party and the supreme leader.”
  6. Many students who go into higher education come from royal family backgrounds. Higher education in North Korea is divided into colleges, universities and vocational schools. One of the most prestigious schools in North Korea, Kim Il-Sung University, is extremely hard to get into. Only students who are related to higher government officials and have good grades can sit for entrance exams. If a student is gifted in science or mathematics, they often go to the University of National Defense.
  7. Military service is required for both North Korean men and women at the age of 17. Before 2017, military service was optional for women. Now they must serve until age 23, and men must serve 10 years. However, exceptionally gifted students from special schools may be exempt from service altogether.
  8. A lot of the education in North Korea is propaganda meant to indoctrinate students into the system as early as kindergarten. For example, when children learn about time, they learn it is based on Kim Il-sung’s birth year, 1912, also known as Year 1 in North Korea. Every classroom in North Korea must have a picture of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il. Children learn about “revolutionary history,” involving music, storybooks, novels and artwork related to the Kims. A report published by the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry states North Korea’s education program has two goals: to instill the utmost loyalty and commitment toward the supreme leader and to instill hostility and deep hatred toward the United States, Japan and South Korea.
  9. The education system violates international law by restricting freedom of thought and expression in its people. The December 2018 U.N. report concludes North Korea is committing “systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights.” Their findings cite torture, “inhuman conditions of detention,” rape, public executions, the death penalty for political and religious reasons, and political prison camps. In addition, it cites pervasive restrictions on freedom of thought, religion, expression, assembly and movement. Consequently, North Korea “totally rejects” the U.N. resolution.
  10. North Korean “reeducation camps” are where prisoners go to perform hard labor. The Ministry of People’s Security runs the reeducation camps. Most of these crimes are political, from border-crossings to slight disturbances in order. Prisoners are often forced into hunger and severe circumstances. Most prisoners do not make it out of their sentence alive. Recently, in January 2019, a North Korean denuclearization diplomat was sent to a reeducation camp. This was likely due to being labeled a spy due to his job, serving as the United States’ contact point with North Korea.

These top 10 facts about education in North Korea show the most important role of education is upholding socialistic conformity. Overall, the country doesn’t seem to be raising unique individuals who are given true freedom of expression. Instead, education, like many other aspects of life in North Korea, is political.

Isadora Savage
Photo: Pixabay