N. Korea closes schools throughout the country for one month

School shutdown affects primary and secondary schools, along with universities in and outside of Pyongyang

North Korea made the decision to close all of its schools for one month starting Feb. 20, in a surprise move that comes after North Korean authorities shutdown the Sino-North Korean border and implemented an “emergency disease control system” to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak.

“All childcare centers, preschools, primary and secondary schools along with universities outside of Pyongyang will be closed for one month starting Feb. 20,” a Daily NK source in the country reported today.

Students at universities in Pyongyang, however, were given slightly different orders by the government.

“Those living in the city have been told to stay at home, while those from other parts of the country are confined to their dormitories. They aren’t allowed to go home,” the source said.

There are generally very few students who attend provincial universities from other areas of the country, but the most talented students from all over the country attend universities in Pyongyang. These students have, in essence, been quarantined in their dormitories for the month.

“The authorities have likely prevented [these] students from leaving Pyongyang because there’s no way of knowing whether they would return with the coronavirus,” the source said.

The decision ultimately is aimed at protecting Pyongyang, deemed the “capital of the revolution,” from a COVID-19 outbreak, he added.

Some North Koreans, however, have expressed a mixture of surprise and dismay at the order to close the country’s schools.

“People are saying that the authorities didn’t take this measure during the SARS or MERS outbreaks [in 2003 and 2015, respectively],” the source reported, adding, “They are surprised that the government has taken such a previously unimaginable step [to prevent an outbreak].”

Daily NK sources reported that the government’s move to close down the country’s schools has created fears among some North Koreans that a serious COVID-19 outbreak has already occurred.

North Korea has yet to confirm any COVID-19 infections in the country, despite being on the border with China, which has suffered tens of thousands of cases.

Some North Koreans, however, have expressed approval at the government’s decision to close down the schools.

“Some people are saying that the schools were closed because of fears by the government over an outbreak among groups of people,” the source said.

“They’re praising the party [Workers’ Party of Korea] for trying to protect the health of the students, particularly because they are considered the future of the country,” he added.

Schools in North Korea hold to different schedules for their winter breaks. Generally speaking, elementary, middle and high schools begin their winter breaks in mid-December and start classes again on Feb. 1. Universities follow a similar schedule; however, “regular” universities start around Jan. 20 each year, while elite universities such as Kim Jong Un National Defense University restart classes in mid-January.

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

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A previous version of this article did not include information about when schools in North Korea take winter breaks. This information has been appended at the end of this article. 

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Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.