Complaints mounting among university students sent to farms for labor

North Korean authorities have declared a month-long general agricultural mobilization until June 15. To free up students to participate in
the order, universities across the nation have shut down, eliciting complaints
from students concerned about constant interruptions to their studies.

Before the Workers’ Party Congress convened earlier in the
month, students were occasionally mobilized to agricultural regions for the “70-Day Battle.” After completing that exhausting series of compulsory
projects, they are now being forced to undertake farm labor in a mobilization
that has been coined “the Rice-Planting Battle,” thus causing many to express
discontent that their right to receive an education is being infringed upon. 

“The students in our province have been sent to agricultural
regions such as Koksan County and Yonsan County. During the ‘70-Day Battle,’
the students were forced to plant seeds and pull up weeds. Now, as the students
head off to the farms again, they are sardonically spouting off lines about how
they are farmers rather than students,” a source in North Hwanghae Province
reported to Daily NK on May 20.

“The students have remarked that being pressed into forced
labor during the ‘70-Day Battle,’ and now for the ‘Rice-Planting Battle’ is
just as laborious and difficult as risking your life on an actual battlefield.
They justifiably point out, ‘If these kind of ‘battles’ continue to arise, when
are we supposed to study?’“

Since rising to power, Kim Jong Un has frequently
underscored the importance of education, describing universities as the
“platform for launching the future of the nation, one of the main pillars of
society, and the training ground for leaders.” He has also continued to point
out that it is important to focus on experiential learning and
on-the-job-training in order to elevate the quality of the nation’s education
and produce illustrious students with technical knowledge.

However, the record shows a different tale. Students have
spent a considerable amount of time being mobilized to work on idolization
construction sites and farms. This has severely crippled their educational
experience. Consequently, students have become upset that their instruction
hours have not been protected and that they are being exploited for their
labor.

Added a separate source in South Hwanghae Province, “University students have spent more
time working on the farm than they have spent studying for their classes or
learning about science/technology. Under such circumstances, students naturally
complain that it is difficult to imagine how these universities will be able to
fulfill Kim Jong Un’s order to create illustrious students with technological
capabilities.”

Similar to previous mobilizations, students with financial
means are engaging in bribery in order to avoid having to participate in the
“Rice-Planting Battle.” University professors are excusing students from the
difficult labor in exchange for US 100 (KPW 810,000) per person.   

But the inequalities do not end there because, the South Hwanghae source
said, “Those who don’t have the money to bribe their way out of the
mobilizations are nonetheless forced to pay school fees, even though they are
going to the farm. These fees include money for their professors and money to
contribute to side dishes. Those too poor to contribute are ridiculed in front
of the entire class.” 

The humiliation is so severe that some students have even
dropped out from shame when they were unable to pay their school fees. “For
those that remain in school, instead of engaging in studies and learning course
material, the only thing that the students learn is how to use flattery and
other tricks in order to survive,” he concluded.

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