North Korean authorities have again delayed the start of the school year after a significant number of students began to show symptoms of COVID-19 – including fevers and respiratory issues – following nationwide events celebrating Party Foundation Day on Oct. 10.

On Thursday, the country’s education ministry instructed provincial and metropolitan educational departments to start the school year on Nov. 1, according to multiple sources inside North Korea on Friday. 

“The number of fever patients has risen nationwide since the Party Foundation Day events, and Central Anti-epidemic Committee figures suggest that 18% of those who have symptoms are students,” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on condition of anonymity. “On the afternoon of Oct. 12, the education ministry instructed provincial education departments not to open schools because a decision [on when to open schools] would be reached on the weekend. Then, yesterday morning [Oct. 15], it suddenly handed down another directive for schools to open on Nov. 1.”

In short, the source’s report suggests that because there was an increase in people complaining of fever symptoms after the Party Foundation Day events – many of them students – the central leadership has again decided to delay the start of the school year. 

“On Thursday, the education ministry ordered schools to restart classes from Nov. 1,” another source in Pyongyang confirmed to Daily NK. “Central universities – which had already reopened but had suspended classes [so that students could prepare] for the Party Foundation Day events – are also restarting classes from the first of November.”

“Central universities” refer to those universities directly managed by the Cabinet’s education ministry. All universities in Pyongyang are managed by the ministry.

According to the source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, the main reason the authorities decided to delay the school year again is because some of the students who participated in the military parade as Worker-Peasant Red Guards or Red Guard Youth – along with university students who participated in the mass parades – are suffering from fevers or respiratory issues.

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

In fact, 27 students from Choson University of Physical Education who participated in a mass parade were recently diagnosed with tuberculosis at Pyongyang People’s Hospital. A rumor in the city suggests, however, that the diagnoses may have been changed from COVID-19 to tuberculosis, according to the source. 

CHECKING STUDENTS ONE BY ONE

In addition to ordering the school year to be delayed once again, North Korean authorities directed schools and public health authorities to thoroughly check and report on the health of students by this past weekend, the North Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK.

In North Pyongan Province, teachers, along with doctors, were visiting students’ homes to examine their health and have put their findings into written reports for the provincial education department, the source said. 

“Education and health workers have been working in perfect order ever since the directive to report on the health of the students without the slightest of errors was handed down,” said the source. “The authorities haven’t delayed the start of the school year because the problem is serious; rather, the aim seems to be to accurately grasp the health of the students following the [Party Foundation Day] events [before starting the school year again].” 

In Pyongyang, staff at specialized hospitals and district hospitals have been mobilized to conduct phlegm and temperature tests, along with X-rays, on students who took part in the Party Foundation Day events. Students found to have symptoms will be isolated, according to Daily NK’s source in the city. 

NO WINTER VACATION THIS YEAR

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

Meanwhile, North Korean authorities have instructed schools to prepare for the winter months because “there will be no winter vacation this year.” The order directs schools to acquire coal or firewood for classroom heating and to install windbreaks during the month of October.

Some parents of students, however, are reportedly complaining about the order to delay the school year again. 

“Parents have just been tolerating the fact that the border remains closed and no more smuggling is allowed, but now that the authorities are saying classes will resume without a winter vacation during the coldest months [of the year], they are sighing and commenting that they will again have to [give money to the schools] to prepare for the winter months,” the North Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK. 

“They are feeling a great deal of pressure about [handing over the money], even though they know it’s to ensure their kids don’t get frostbite and can study in warm [classrooms],” he 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.