With the spring semester starting on Apr. 1, North Korean authorities have decided to begin the new academic year without bringing children back to school, Daily NK has learned.

A source in the country told Daily NK yesterday that the education ministry handed down the order to provincial education departments on Mar. 26, and schools in each city and county received the order on Mar. 27.

According to the source, the order included four directives, including telling schools to conduct their curriculums “as they have done thus far.”

The education ministry order directed schools to continue having teachers visit students at their homes and to continue remote learning, including the use of USB-based learning materials.

North Korean authorities appear to have come to the conclusion that there will be difficulties in having students return to school given that the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging.

The education ministry’s order included a directive telling education authorities to confirm that schools in Pyongyang and No. 1 Middle Schools throughout the country have enough notebook computers for the students.

According to the source, education authorities had previously been ordered to ensure that students in Pyongyang and at elite schools throughout the country have equipment to participate in remote learning. The government and the families of students each paid half the cost for students to be supplied with “Blue Sky” and “Ryongnamsan” notebook computers, according to the source.

The order also included a directive for schools not to hold the traditional “preparatory school day” on Mar. 30 and for students to have a “day of rest” on Mar. 31. Based on this directive, the authorities appear to have gotten rid of “unnecessary” events such as the preparatory school day, but have retained the custom of having students take a day of rest before the start of a new semester.

Students at the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School in Pyongyang. / Image: KCNA

The education ministry also ordered all first-year students moving up from preschool to elementary school, elementary school to middle/high school, or middle/high school to university to attend their schools on Apr. 1 for a formal matriculation ceremony, according to the source.

“Students moving up to new schools aren’t familiar with [their new schools’] academic traditions, so [the authorities] are having all of them attend the ceremonies, with a couple of current students there to help facilitate the events,” the source said, adding, “[The authorities] have told provincial, municipal, and county party committees, education departments and disease control offices to work closely together to conduct the ceremonies in line with the needs of each locale.”

All of these new incoming students, however, will not attend school from Apr. 2. Instead, teachers will either visit their homes, manage their students’ learning through remote learning, or use USB-based learning materials to conduct their classes.

After the education ministry’s order was handed down, the parents of students reportedly expressed concern that students will have a hard time keeping up with their curriculums while at home.

Some parents with the financial means have expressed the desire to hire private tutors to ensure their children continue their studies properly.

Many parents believe that having teachers visit the homes of their students creates a difficult and uncomfortable learning environment. “Teachers who are having economic troubles intentionally visit students’ homes at lunch time to get a meal, which has led to discontent among parents,” the source explained, adding, “There are rumors that the [COVID-19] vaccine will be available from May or June, which has led many parents to hope that their kids will be able to attend school again from the next semester.”

Parents have also complained that despite the fact that schools are closed, their children are still being called out to work at farms for the spring planting season.

“There are plaques on the walls of each classroom with sayings by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il exhorting students to remind themselves that ‘students must be focused on learning,’ ‘the main duty of a student is to study well,’ and that ‘students must prioritize learning,’” the source said, adding, “The students are reciting these sayings yet are already complaining about heading out to the farm fields.”

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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.