North Korean students returned to school on June 3 amid stringent measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to a Daily NK source in the country on June 4. 

“Staff from quarantine stations, parents and upper-year students used disinfectant and antiseptics provided by the state to carry out disease preventive measures,” the source said. “Prior to the start of semester, [students] were instructed to wear masks, use hand sanitizer when entering corridors, classrooms, research labs, nature rooms, laboratories or common rooms, and avoid bunching together unnecessarily on the playground during recess, except to use bathrooms.”

While parents are still anxious about their kids because the COVID-19 pandemic has not yet subsided, the source reported that there were no cases in which North Korean parents refused to let their children return to school. The source said that thorough preventive measures had eased the concerns of parents to some degree. Daily NK reported earlier this week that the country had sterilized the entire country’s educational facilities over three days from May 31 to June 2.

The source also reported that if a student exhibits symptoms such as a fever or cough, an official from the school will visit the house of the student along with staff from a local clinic to assess the situation and decide whether the student can attend school. 

“Anyone deemed to be a risk must self-isolate for a month. I’ve heard that students will be allowed to take a leave of absence in these cases, but a final decision on what to do with such students has not been announced,” the source said. 

Amid the global spread of COVID-19, North Korea has already extended school vacation on four occasions. At the directive of the education ministry, students at universities in Pyongyang and outside of the city, along with graduating third-year students at high schools, were the first to return to school on Apr. 17. All other students, including preschoolers, remained on vacation until further notice.

Although the start of the semester means classes have begun at North Korean schools, the extended vacation has left schools with a backlog of coursework that must be crammed into a short period of time. 

In response to this, North Korean authorities have extended school hours and ordered schools to conduct make-up classes by shortening the summer vacation period. 

“The school day normally included six hours of classes in middle and high schools, but this semester it has changed to eight,” the source told Daily NK. “The number of class hours has also increased at elementary schools, with an additional two hours in the afternoon on top of the usual four hours in the morning. Schools originally conducted both classes and political events on Saturday mornings, but this semester there will be more classes in the morning with political events pushed into the afternoon hours.” 

The source additionally told Daily NK that North Korean authorities have issued orders to minimize student mobilization in rural community support projects.

“The education ministry handed down an order instructing schools to stop any students from being sent to other cities, counties or villages to perform farm work or on any other ‘unnecessary’ projects,” the source added.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.