More than 40% of students at schools in Hyesan fail to show up for class

For people living day-to-day, it costs a lot to buy what their children need to go to school, a source told Daily NK

The 2022 school year in North Korea began on Apr. 1, but school attendance is reportedly suffering due to economic troubles.

A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Thursday that over 40% of students at Hyesan’s primary and secondary schools are failing to show up for class. He said students are essentially refusing to go to school due to economic difficulties.

According to the source, there is not a single class in Hyesan with 100% attendance. He said that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools could guarantee 70% attendance, but recent official attendance numbers have reached as low as 50%.

There is an average of 25 to 28 students per class in Hyesan’s primary and secondary schools. Apparently only about half — 12 to 14 students — are actually going to school, however. 

In the case of Hyesan’s Hyesin Primary School, only 50-60% of students showed up for the first day of school on Apr. 1.

With attendance so low, the Hyesin Primary School’s principal called an emergency teacher’s meeting the next day on Apr. 2. During the meeting, he reportedly ordered teachers to raise attendance to over 90% within the week.

The source blamed the mass absences on economic troubles. He said it costs about RMB 2,000 (around USD 314) to prepare basic school supplies like notebooks and backpacks.

In Hyesan, the cheapest school uniforms, backpacks, and shoes cost RMB 1,000, RMB 550 and RMB 500, respectively. A ballpoint pen costs KPW 15,000, while a notebook costs KPW 8,000 to KPW 10,000.

The source said for people living day to day, it costs a lot to buy what their children need to go to school. He said the mother of one second grader at Hyesin Primary School complained that she felt so guilty about being unable to send her only child to school that it felt like “being stabbed in the heart.” The mother said her family circumstances were so bad that buying school supplies was out of the question, let alone sending her child to school.

During a plenary meeting of the Central Committee late last year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered that all students be provided with high-quality uniforms and backpacks. 

However, the source said uniforms and backpacks were provided only to first year students at primary, middle and high schools, as well as to university freshmen. Nothing was provided to students advancing into the next grade.

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at