North Korean authorities recently handed down an order to schools throughout the country that directed them to start the new semester on Sept. 1, Daily NK has learned.

According to a source in the country yesterday, the country’s education ministry handed down the order on Aug. 21 to universities located outside of Pyongyang, along with high schools, middle schools, elementary schools and preschools. The order follows the “early” start of the new semester for universities in Pyongyang on Aug. 10.

North Korea’s second semester typically begins on Sept. 1; however, there was speculation that the start of the semester could be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the source, who spoke to Daily NK on the condition of anonymity, North Korean authorities decided to start the semester on Sept. 1 under the belief that the “school vacation” could no longer continue if schools were to make up for the class time lost during the first semester.

“The central [government] was faced with the decision to start expedited lectures again in a situation where schools have not fulfilled the legal number of school days and class time put forth by the Theses of Socialist Education,” the source said, referring to North Korea’s official guidelines on educating students.

“Education departments on the provincial, municipal and county levels have been ordered with work with the administrative departments in each school to minimize gatherings as a precaution against the spread of the pandemic and ensure that schools conduct expedited classes after the start of the semester to prevent [students] from falling further behind,” he added.

Universities, meanwhile, will make up for the lost class time during the first semester by holding lectures during mornings and afternoons during the second semester, as opposed to just the mornings as was normal in the past. North Korean authorities have reportedly put all their focus on ensuring students can finish “core courses” by either reducing or eliminating “practical training” held outside the schools.

DISINFECTING SCHOOL FACILITIES

North Korean authorities also handed down disease control-related guidelines for schools to follow. The guidelines directed provincial, municipal and county party committees, education committees, and “anti-epidemic command centers” to ensure that “universities, schools, and preschools adhere to top class quarantine regulations.”

Daily NK’s source reported that the authorities have ordered the “seals” on classroom doors at schools throughout the country to be removed and for the facilities to undergo “massive disinfection and cleaning” by Aug. 29.

“The Day of Songun [Aug. 25] and Youth Day [Aug. 28] are national holidays, so [schools] have to complete the disinfection and cleaning by Aug. 29 outside of those days,” the source said. “Schools have already mobilized people [to conduct the disinfection and cleaning activities] and divided them up into groups [to work on] specific days so there won’t be too many people [at the schools] at one time.”

After the disinfection and cleaning of the schools are complete, students and faculty will be given a day of rest on Aug. 30 before a “preparatory school day” on Aug. 31.

north korean students
A group of North Korean students in Pyongyang / Image: fresh888, Flickr, Creative Commons

According to the source, North Korean authorities have ordered that if more than 7% of students in a class have fevers of 37.5 degrees Celsius or higher, schools are to report this immediately to provincial, municipal and county disease control authorities and adhere to any decision by the provincial party committee to shutdown the school if required.

Rather than shut down the schools, however, there is a high possibility that students with  high fevers could be made to study in isolation given that the authorities are placing a priority on starting the semester and making up for lost class time, the source speculated.

North Korean authorities have also reportedly ordered education and public health-related officials to carefully monitor whether there are fevers among students following the start of the school year. Students will be given their first temperature test at school entrances by staff at local hospitals and clinics and will be tested again inside their classrooms by their teachers or other school staff. Any student with a fever is to be reported immediately to provincial, municipal and county party and disease control authorities.

“When students did their preparatory school day in the past, entire schools gathered in school yards before heading home,” the source said. “This time, students will only gather with others from the same class.”

Based on what he had heard, the source noted that entire student bodies will not gather together for attendance checks or to conduct marches and will instead “quietly” get their temperatures checked and head to class.

North Korean authorities have also ordered students in the same classes at elementary and middle schools to refrain from the custom of gathering together in one spot and then singing while walking to school. The students have instead been instructed to head to school alone, according to the source.

PARENTAL CONCERN REMAINS

Students and their parents are reportedly concerned about the restart of school amid the continued threat from COVID-19. There are many parents of preschoolers who are refusing to send their kids to school, while many parents of elementary, middle, and high school students – and even university students – are saying that, if possible, they want to keep their children at home.

“[The government] says there’s no [COVID-19] cases, but people are saying that the coronavirus is causing the rash of yolbyong around them,” the source said, using a blanket term referring to all illnesses accompanied by a fever.

“Many parents are conflicted and unable to make clear decisions [about sending their kids back to school] because of the concern that keeping their children out of school will negatively impact where their kids are placed [their job opportunities] after graduation,” he added.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Ha Yoon Ah is Daily NK's editor-in-chief. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.