North Korean students may have gone on vacation as scheduled, but Daily NK has learned that rather than resting, students are instead being mobilized to carry out flood relief or to lend a hand in agricultural villages.

According to multiple Daily NK sources in North Korea on Friday, North Korean elementary school students went on vacation at the beginning of the month, while middle, high school and university students started their vacation in the middle of the month.

However, authorities are enlisting vacationing students for labor in places in North and South Hamgyong provinces, which were battered by recent torrential rains.

A source in North Hamgyong Province said the authorities were mobilizing “fifth-graders and above” for recovery efforts. He said since schools are being paid according to the “results” of their labor, students “have to work morning to afternoon to carry out their daily work tasks.”

Once each school is tasked with recovery efforts in a particular area, the school splits up that area between each grade, class and academic department and assigns students daily tasks. They assign work each age group can handle; usually, this means students are filling up basins or buckets with mud, or moving rocks.

The source said in some rain stricken areas, students mobilized for recovery efforts even spent three straight days working from 5 AM to 1 AM the next day.

In areas that suffered no real damage, students are reportedly lending a hand in efforts to prevent damage in agricultural villages.

A source in Pyongyang said students are heading to nearby farms to erect stoneworks and levies, harden the ground and build waterways. “Last year, students were hardly mobilized during the summer vacation. They were busy with their incomplete school work,” he said. “This year, anyway, the school work is all finished, so it appears students will be mobilized throughout the vacation.”

To be excluded from work, students must submit a certificate or doctor’s note saying they need medical testing and pay a bit of money. Otherwise, the students need to pay a lot of money in the form of “voluntary” donations to the effort.

The source said such donations have no upper limit, “just minimum ones, at least KPW 100,000.” According to him, “Only those doing well can afford that kind of money. Those that can’t must pay it with the labor of their children, without complaint.”

notebook computers
Students at North Korea’s Pyongyang Elementary School take computer lessons. / Image: Ryukyung

This being the case, students are reportedly reducing their sleeping hours to do their vacation homework at night.

“Vacation homework is something mandatory for the students, so those mobilized for work during the week are doing their homework in the lamplight at night,” said another source in North Hamgyong Province. “So they can’t even think about helping out on their parents’ small fields. But some kids spend all night doing homework while they stand guard with their parents in lookout huts to help protect their corn fields.”

“If parents get caught lying that their kids are sick and not sending them to work because they are short on hands at home, those children will be criticized during their class vacation reviews,” said the source. “Ultimately, parents end up having to spend all night farming. So among parents, there’s grumbling about these labor mobilizations that repeat every year.”

Criticism is reportedly emerging that with the authorities failing to supply cement and other supplies needed to prevent damages, preventative efforts amount to patchwork, leading to continuous damage with levies breaking and fields flooding in monsoon rains, torrential downpours and floods. 

In fact, parents are complaining that “they wouldn’t have to call out kids and other people” if the state would take proper preventative measures “from the very beginning” by providing “even a bit of cement,” and that it is a waste to keep doing the same thing every time there is a problem “even though levies will ultimately collapse when you build them using raw stones without cement.”

Meanwhile, according to a source in Pyongyang, Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology have not sent students hailing from areas outside of the capital city back to their hometowns during the summer vacation because they have yet to complete their coursework.

Accordingly, the students remaining in Pyongyang are doing independent study in the mornings to complete their coursework and submitting work related to their independent study in the afternoons.

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.