North Korea has delayed the start of the school year again due to concern over the potential spread of COVID-19 and widespread damage to schools from recent typhoons and monsoon rains, Daily NK has learned.

“On Tuesday afternoon, the Cabinet’s Ministry of Education [referring to the two ministries that handle primary, secondary and university education] issued an order to education departments in the provinces, Pyongyang and special cities to delay the start of school,” a source in North Korea told Daily NK yesterday.

“The reason [stated for the delay] was due to concern [about the spread of COVID-19] following the return of an illegal border crosser to Samjiyon, Yanggang Province, after she testing positive for COVID-19 [in China],” he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Daily NK reported that two women living in China, including one who reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 in a Chinese hospital, had entered the area in mid-August. The incident helped lead North Korean authorities to lock down Samjiyon and nearby Hyesan, halting all movement of goods and people.

There have reportedly been continued instances of people crossing over the Sino-North Korea border or sneaking around prohibited areas near the border. This, the source said, is one reason why the authorities decided to delay the start of school again.

notebook computers
Students at an elementary school in Pyongyang./ Image: Ryugyong

Another reason the school year has been delayed is because of reports that many schools were “swept away” by floods or damaged by recent typhoons in Kangwon, North and South Hamgyong, and North and South Hwanghae provinces, the source told Daily NK.

In fact, the education ministry’s directive to delay the school year included statistics on damage to schools in the country’s provinces, cities and counties. Around 20% of the country’s elementary, middle and high school buildings have either been destroyed or damaged by monsoons and, more recently, typhoons, making it impossible for students to have classes at these facilities, according to the document.

“After analyzing the overall situation, the Cabinet’s Ministry of Education, Anti-epidemic Command and other agencies sent a report to the Central Committee, leading to the decision to delay the school year,” the source said. “Universities in Pyongyang, in any case, will need to halt their classes to prepare for the 75th anniversary of Party’s founding on Oct. 10, so it seems the authorities thought there’d be little issue in delaying the school year [again].”

Ultimately, students at elementary, middle and high schools, along with students attending universities outside of Pyongyang, who were preparing for the restart of school (originally planned for around Sept. 10) have again been forced to spend more time at home. Students have simply been ordered to “review” their textbooks and no other school work has been given out, the source said.

According to the source, education authorities are considering two options about when to restart the school year: After the Chusok holiday on Oct. 5, or on Oct. 12, following the Oct. 10 celebrations.

“A directive issued by the authorities states that they will decide on one or the other by Sept. 29,” he added.

TURNING TO “PRIVATE EDUCATION”

The source further reported that there is interest among parents of some students in Pyongyang to have their kids study remotely using the country’s “education intranet,” which is available in Pyongyang and other areas of the country.

The parents are reportedly worried that the continued delay of the school year will make it impossible for their children to complete all their required studies by the end of the school year. Some of the worry seems to center around the idea that teachers will rush through the curriculum, regardless of whether students understand or not, the source said.

In response, however, some education officials are saying that allowing only kids who are wealthy enough to have access to computers and other devices take classes remotely will “distort” the “Theses of Socialist Education.” These theses are a set of guidelines for educating the country’s students, and include stipulations that all students be given 12 years of education and for education to be provided equally to all.

Nonetheless, some members of the elite in Pyongyang and other places are paying for private tutors to quietly teach their kids various courses, the source said.

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.