North Korea’s education ministry recently announced that child care centers, preschools, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools will reopen on June 1, Daily NK has learned.

North Korean university students along with third-year high school students already returned to school on Apr. 17. Daily NK previously reported in mid-April that first and second-year high school students, along with middle school students, elementary school students, pre-schools and day cares would not be returning to school until May 20.

Interestingly, North Korea’s education authorities did not order an extension of the vacation period set to end on May 20, which suggests that the period stretching from May 20 to June 1 is a “preparation period” for the reopening of the schools, according to the source.

North Korean schools will reportedly focus on a number of things during the ten-day preparation period: schools will receive new textbooks and other school supplies; students will receive their assigned classrooms and seats; class schedules will be announced; and students will participate in “cleaning up” their schools.

Meanwhile, students who have just entered new schools from this year (first year elementary, middle school and high school students) will register for classes, hold group meetings with their teachers and take tours of their schools.

North Korea’s education ministry reportedly plans to have students participate in “supplementary classes” during the country’s traditional summer vacation period in July and August. The ministry also ordered schools to hold a one-week summer vacation on the last week of August.

CONCERNS OVER COVID-19

Many parents, however, are expressing concerns about sending their kids back to school because of COVID-19.

“Parents of students think that schools have been closed for so long because the infectious disease [COVID-19] has spread in North Korea, despite government assurances that there have been no infections,” the source said. “They are asking themselves whether it’s OK to send their kids there and are worried about their kids getting infected by other students.”

Parents with just one preschool-age child “don’t want to send their kids” back to school because “their kids are all they have,” the source said, adding, “Some parents say they’re not going to send their five-year-olds back to preschool yet and will just wait to send them back to school next year after the COVID-19 situation calms down.”

The source also reported that there are an increasing number of parents who believe its better just to hire a tutor to help kids younger than six learn the basics such as numbers and the Korean alphabet. Pre-school classes for six-year-olds are considered part of North Korea’s 12-year school curriculum.

TUTORING AT HOME

Students have reportedly been studying at home over the course of the extended school closures. North Korean education authorities have ordered students to memorize the histories of the “Three Great Generals” (Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Suk), but have not handed down any directives for students to study other subjects.

Students from wealthy families are reportedly hiring tutors for USD 15 – 20 a month to help them keep up with their studies.

“The state has cracked down on tutors because they are considered the ‘seeds of capitalism’ who oppose the socialist lifestyle, but parents have continued hiring them under-the-table,” the source said. “[Recent] crackdowns [on tutors] have gotten worse so parents are avoiding actually paying tutors for their work with cash. Instead, parents are paying them with rice, soybeans, oil and other things as ‘expressions of gratitude.'”

North Korea’s education authorities reportedly considered implementing online classes similar to those conducted in South Korea. The source told Daily NK, however, that the authorities concluded this would not be “realistic” because less than 25% of homes with students own a smartphone, computer or notebook based on a recent survey of schools conducted by the Ministry of Higher Education and the country’s Communications Bureau.

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.