Elementary school in North Korea schools reopen
An elementary school in North Korea. (DPRK Today)

Amid reports that North Korean teachers are suffering from severe privation, a teacher in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, was recently criticized during a public struggle session for overtly asking students for gifts, Daily NK has learned.

“A public ideological struggle meeting was held at Hamhung First High School on Mar. 12 for a teacher in her forties surnamed Lee. According to a report received by the provincial department of education, this teacher had demanded gifts from her students on International Women’s Day,” a source in South Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Wednesday.

International Women’s Day, which falls on Mar. 8, is also celebrated in North Korea, where it is customary for women to receive congratulatory bouquets and gifts from their families and at their schools and workplaces.

At elementary, middle and high schools, students pool their money to buy teachers material goods, such as bouquets, clothing, or shoes, or express their gratitude in a variety of other ways.

The problem was that Lee had blatantly demanded gifts from students and parents.

Lee called in the class president and the head of the Youth League’s elementary organization and asked them what they were planning to give her for International Women’s Day, the source told Daily NK. Lee then asked them to collect KPW 5,000 from each student and urged them not to fall behind other grades, which she said were collecting KPW 10,000 per student.

In addition, Lee met separately with six students who were well-off and instructed each of them to bring five kilograms of rice to her house.

The source said that after Lee asked the student leaders for money and food, students’ parents complained to the provincial department of education that she was squeezing students for gifts on International Women’s Day.

The education department immediately called Lee and the school principal to figure out what had happened and later instructed the school to hold a public ideological struggle meeting for Lee.

An ideological struggle meeting is a kind of criticism session held at organizations in which everyone present takes turns criticizing the mistakes of the person being reprimanded.

A public struggle session of this sort was indeed held at the school in question on Mar. 12 as the education department had ordered. In addition to the public criticism that Lee faced at the meeting, she is still required to visit the provincial department of education every day to write self-criticism statements, the source said.

“I can only imagine the level of poverty that would have driven that teacher to ask her own students for food. The problem here is with the authorities, who can’t even ensure that teachers get their rations,” the source said.

“At a time as difficult as the present, teachers aren’t even able to attend school without parents helping out. Before punishing teachers for asking parents to pitch in, [the authorities] should first resolve the problems with their livelihood,” he added.

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

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.