North Pushing for School PE Grades

The North Korean authorities have added physical education (PE) to the core educational curriculum for all students.

Pyongyang signaled its new focus on sport when it established the country’s ‘State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission’ via a full Politburo meeting on the 4th, installing regime heavyweight Jang Sung Taek as chair. The new organization’s mission includes “increasing social concern for physical culture and sports, putting it on a mass basis, making it part of daily life” and training tomorrow’s stars.

Now, a Pyongyang source told Daily NK on the 15th, “From September this year PE has become a core elementary and middle school subject, and schools are emphasizing that those students who aren’t good enough at PE cannot go into higher level classes. Some students are in a bit of a panic!”

North Korea’s educational assessment system is fairly typical, although it does include ‘Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Suk revolutionary history’ alongside languages, math, science and now PE, meaning that this must be passed in order for a student to progress. At the end of the school year, all students are tested, emerging with a number from 1 to 5, correlating with grades A-E, and anyone with less than a 3 fails.

PE, Chinese characters (‘Hanja’), art and music did not previously affect overall grades; until now, since PE has been moved firmly into the core category. Accordingly, schools are said to be adding additional PE classes to weekly schedules and attempting to invest in sport, taking their lead from the obvious importance placed on the creation of the State Sports Guidance Commission.

The source noted, “Kim Jong Eun instructed the State Sports Guidance Commission to ‘raise the athletic bar’, so of course all units are trying to generate passion for sport.”

There are other signs of the new commission’s influence. In addition to placing greater importance on school physical education, the authorities are also expanding physical education-related exchanges with China and even with Japan.

On the 14th, Chinese and North Korean officials adopted the ‘2013 Sports Exchanges Protocol,’ while this week Jang Sung Taek, as chair of the new commission, has been just one of the state officials meeting a delegation from Nippon Sports Science University led by pro-North Korea former wrestler Kanji (aka Antonio) Inoki.

Reviewing the evidence, experts suggest that North Korea is following the path of heavily promoting sport because it is seen as a low risk-high reward strategy that can be pursued, to a certain degree at least, on a small budget.

Cheong Seong Chang of the Sejong Institute observed, “The sports sector is one in which small investments can reap big rewards, while sports exchanges are an apolitical activity that can be employed for political ends. That’s why they are doing this.”