The gap in education quality between urban and rural areas in North Korea is growing because of COVID-19 quarantine efforts, Daily NK has learned. It has reportedly become difficult for students in rural areas to participate in remote learning, and even young students are being pulled into jobs to help support their families.

“Teachers in rural areas are finding that when they visit students’ homes for class, the students are going out to nearby mountains to find wood or are collecting [fallen] coal from nearby train tracks,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK yesterday. “Many of the students are helping their parents rather than doing homework or studying.”

North Korea has extended school vacations as part of COVID-19 disease control efforts, and teachers are visiting students’ homes to continue their learning.

Rural areas, however, face difficult learning environments, including a lack of textbooks, and many young students are taking on jobs to support their financially-distressed families rather than focusing on school.

The parents of students respond to teachers who tell them about the need for their kids to continue their studies by saying, “Our priority is surviving, not study” and that “We must earn money however we can right now to survive.”

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

In short, poor families living in rural areas are suffering from such severe financial difficulties and the prospect of not putting food on the table that they are having to mobilize their kids to earn money.

North Korean authorities are conducting online classes through TVs and computers to make up for the lost learning time due to COVID-19 disease control measures.

These remote classes are only being offered at some schools in the country, including schools for talented students in Pyongyang.

In rural areas or small towns throughout the country, however, many students do not have computers or their homes do not get regular supplies of electricity, making it hard to conduct remote classes, according to the source.

In contrast, students in Pyongyang-based schools are continuing their learning through remote classes and parents with the financial means are providing them with expensive tutors for music, mathematics, and science.

“Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the gap in education is [growing] due to differences in economic levels,” the source said, adding, “There are growing differences in [education quality] between those living in Pyongyang or outside the capital city, between those in cities and those in rural areas, and between the rich and the poor.”

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to