Daily NK learned recently that following an Organization and Guidance Department (OGD) investigation into the Ministry of Higher Education’s “non-standing commission for the implementation of the Distance Education Act,” North Korean authorities executed the chairman of the commission and are currently conducting ideological examinations of other commission members.

“The non-standing commission was established in June of last year,” a source in the country told Daily NK last Friday. “The OGD conducted an investigation because [the commission failed] to make any progress and because some have criticized the government’s policies.”

Because the Distance Education Act non-standing commission was directly affiliated with the higher education ministry, the authorities selected a department director in the ministry, a man in his 50s named Park, to serve as chairman. The authorities also selected approximately 20 professors to serve as members of the commission. 

However, after establishing the commission last June, commission members allegedly conducted weekly meetings as perfunctory procedures only and failed to achieve any progress or results. The OGD investigated the members after receiving word that some of them, led by Park, gathered to complain about government policy.

Beginning in the early days of the commission, members reportedly complained at every meeting that the necessary facilities and equipment would have to be installed before the Distance Education Act could be implemented. Park repeatedly explained this to his superiors, who responded by saying that “There are no instructions from the Central Committee, so stay put [and keep silent].”

After hearing this, Park bluntly expressed his displeasure by saying “I don’t understand why [the authorities] would choose to implement the act, create this commission, and call busy professors away from their university jobs [if they were not going to give the commission any resources].”

Because he estimated that the implementation of the Distance Education Act would take a long time, Park suggested that it would be better to retrain teachers, increase the number of schools and instructors, and send them to work in relatively underdeveloped regions.

When this suggestion was met with silence by higher-ups, Park vented his frustration to commission members, saying that “Even if [we] make suggestions, [they] just tell [us] to keep [our] mouths shut, so let’s just go through the motions of gathering and then go home.”

kim il sung university elite misconduct
The main entrance of Kim Il Sung University. / Image: Kim Il Sung University website

A member of the commission who also serves as the dean of the Kim Il Sung University School of Law met with Ri Guk Chol, the president of Kim Il Sung University and the head of the Ministry of Higher Education, to discuss the matter. The dean said that “the ‘distance learning policy’ is progressing poorly and things are not getting done properly. If the Party finds out, it could become a big problem. Director [Park] was complaining, but if the Party knew the situation, they would solve some of the problems [making it impossible for the commission to get results], right?”

However, Ri Guk Chol dug up specific comments by Park and reported him to the Central Committee, saying that “Everyone knows that the nation is experiencing difficulties, but policies can’t be executed properly because of people like [Park], whose heads are not in the right place.” 

After receiving Ri’s report, the OGD conducted an investigation into the commission. The Ministry of State Security executed Park in the second week of March for “anti-party and anti-revolutionary sectarian activities within the education sector.” The source reported that the OGD will conduct ideological examinations of the other approximately 20 professors throughout the month of April.

North Korean authorities have reorganized the non-standing commission, according to the source.

The new non-standing commission has three subcommittees that were not included in the previous iteration. These are 1) the Pyongyang Distance Education Act Enforcement and Internet Network Establishment Committee, 2) the Regional Distance Education Act Enforcement and Internet Network Establishment Committee, and 3) the Organization and Planning Committee. Membership in the new commission increased to 180 people, and now includes 50 Pyongyang residents.

“They plan to video conference calls on a regular basis and include provincial education department representatives, regional universities, regional education ministry officials, the registrars of regional schools, and others as members,” the source said.

Interestingly, Ri Guk Chol, the president of Kim Il Sung University, is the chairman of the reorganized commission. Ri’s appointment could indicate the government’s determination to enforce the Distance Education Act by raising the prominence of the commission. 

After the authorities reorganized the commission, Kim Jong Un addressed the matter in a “handwritten remark,” reportedly writing that “Just as I became the commander in the battle for forest restoration, I will also become the commander of a farsighted grand policy for national education.” 

According to the source, the “handwritten remark” – interpreted as a sign that Kim Jong Un will fully support and assist the implementation of the Distance Education Act – has reportedly been distributed to all members of the commission.

*Translated by S & J

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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.