North Korea suddenly postponed the start of the school year in what appears to have been a measure aimed at protecting the health of students due to fears over COVID-19, Daily NK has learned.

“The Cabinet’s Ministry of Education handed down an urgent order at around 3 PM yesterday [Aug. 31] to provincial education departments throughout the country to delay the start of school by around 10 days,” a source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told Daily NK yesterday. “The students received word between 5 PM and 8 PM through the network that the start of school had been delayed.”

“The network” refers to a list of phone numbers that schools can use to contact students and their parents in an emergency.

According to the source, North Korean schools conducted a “preliminary school day” on Aug. 31 as originally planned. With universities in Pyongyang already in session, preliminary school days were held across elementary, middle and high schools nationwide, along with universities outside of Pyongyang.

A number of students failed to attend classes on Aug. 31 because of fevers, which led the education ministry to quickly call for a postponement of the start of school that afternoon, the source said.

None of the students who attended school on Aug. 31 had temperatures above 37.4 degrees Celsius, but “[The education ministry] decided to shutdown universities and other schools for around 10 days and have teachers check the health of their students because there were several kids who voluntarily chose not to attend school [because of fevers],” he told Daily NK.

“There were many schools that failed to properly put in place anti-epidemic measures inside and outside [their facilities] as ordered by provincial anti-epidemic committees and despite concern over the spread of COVID-19 on the border [with China],” the source further reported, pointing out that the failure of the schools to follow proper procedures was another reason why the start of school was delayed.

North Korean students walking past propaganda posters. / Image: Sogwang

Around 10 schools in each province failed to pass “sanitation [and] anti-epidemic inspections,” and there were even schools in Pyongyang that failed to pass the inspections, according to the source.

The source said that these schools will have their students clean and disinfect the facilities from Aug. 3 to Aug. 5. From Aug. 6, the schools will face another inspection by provincial anti-epidemic committees and must receive final confirmation from their provincial education departments before they can hold classes again.

Students at elementary, middle and high schools that have already passed inspection will review their coursework until the restart of school, according to the source. Teachers, meanwhile, have reportedly been ordered to visit the houses of their students to check their health, including whether they have fevers.

Students at universities (outside of Pyongyang) are prohibited from leaving their houses and must review their schoolwork at home while focusing on personal hygiene and maintaining good health, the source said.

North Korean students are expected to return to class on Aug. 10 – a day after “Foundation Day,” a national holiday. “The plan is to have [students] do their oaths during their first class on Aug. 10,” the source said.

North Korean authorities require the members of all organizations in the country, starting with the “Korean Children’s Union,” to read out oaths pledging loyalty to the regime on national holidays, including New Years Day (Jan. 1), Kim Jong Un’s birthday (Jan. 8), Kim Jong Il’s birthday (Feb. 16), Kim Il Sung’s birthday (Apr. 15), Foundation Day (Aug. 9) and Party Foundation Day (Oct. 10).

According to the source, some people are speculating that the delay in the start of school means that “the virus has finally entered [the country]” and that “all of those cases of high fevers here and there were said to be just colds, but maybe that’s not the case.”

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Ha Yoon Ah is Daily NK's editor-in-chief. Please direct any questions about her articles to