North Korea has decided it will not open schools this autumn semester and recently notified schools to that effect. Due to quarantine efforts against COVID-19, this semester will proceed with home visits by teachers and video lectures rather than students attending classes in schools.

A source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on Tuesday that the education ministry informed schools on Oct. 29 that in-class instruction would not begin this year, adding that with the ministry suggesting that students simply learn at home until the Eighth Party Congress, “there’s talk that students will have to wait until February or March before they can go to school.”

After delaying the opening of schools several times earlier this year, North Korean authorities had recently announced a plan to open schools on Nov. 1. The ministry’s latest order, however, seems to have again scuttled these plans. 

Instead, North Korean students are getting through the autumn semester by taking classes at home. Quoting a source in North Pyongan Province, Daily NK reported late last month that the North Korean authorities recently presented teachers with a plan for them to visit the homes of students to teach and, accordingly, teachers are conducting one-on-one classes at students’ homes.

Technically speaking, North Korea has already restarted the school year because classes are ongoing. It is unprecedented, however, that the new semester is proceeding without an opening ceremony or students actually going to schools.

pyungyang students school vacations
Students attending class in North Korea’s Pyongyang Elementary School. / Image: Ryukyung Website

Prior to this, no-contact online classes took place in Pyongyang, which has a telecommunications network. Efforts to continue schooling online seems to have hit some speed bumps, however: students have recently begun receiving USB memory cards with videos of teacher lectures along with assignments.

“Teachers are recording their weekly lectures and sharing them on memory cards every week, and the education ministry is encouraging these kinds of video lectures,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “In Pyongyang, this is possible because almost all students have a computer or tablet at home.”

With students continuing to stay away from schools due to quarantine efforts, teachers are reportedly handling all the “social mobilizations” and “tasks” issued to the schools. Accordingly, the source said teachers are openly asking students for money, telling them, for example that “It’s tough because I’m doing the things you are supposed to be doing.”

Having learned of this situation, however, the education ministry ordered that all social mobilizations be done without additional cost to the students, stressing the responsibility and role of teachers as “revolutionary educators.”

UNIVERSITY STUDENTS ORDERED TO ISOLATE THEMSELVES

Meanwhile, the Workers’ Party leadership  recently ordered that students at universities in Pyongyang who were mobilized for Party Foundation Day stay “isolated” on campus until the Eighth Party Congress in January. 

The order, which was reputedly from Kim Jong Un himself, was handed down last week and reportedly called on the education ministry and the Central Anti-epidemic Committee to jointly ensure that students who participated in the Oct. 10 events stay isolated in their dorms and for their health to be regularly checked.

Students at the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School in Pyongyang. / Image: KCNA

In fact, students at the universities who took part in the military parade and mass parades are under isolation at the university dormitories, according to the source. He said that the students are to “unconditionally” remain in their dorms until the Eighth Party Congress regardless of whether they are from Pyongyang or the provinces, and regardless of whether they show symptoms such as fevers or respiratory troubles.

“The order was made to force university students who took part in the events to stay [in their dorms] and be monitored until the Eighth Party Congress after it was reported to the Workers’ Party that six students at Kim Il Sung University, three students at Handoksu University of Light Industry and two students at Pyongyang University of Architecture who participated in the events recently died,” said the source. “This has spurred [the authorities] into action to ensure that no other incidents occur before the party congress.” 

According to the source, “the atmosphere is bleak” given that some even say that the dead students are “just the ones we know of, and that there could be even more students who died.”

The source told Daily NK that “the parents of the students in isolation [at their dorms] are coming to the university deans in tears asking about what they need to do, while parents living outside of Pyongyang are strongly protesting the fact that their kids can’t come home.”

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.