As the Kim Jong Il period started in the 1980s, students became subject to many more kinds of unwelcome social mobilization.
For example, students were made to carry water from local rivers in order to build a skating rink every winter, and to take part in the construction of railroads, swimming pools and many other construction projects in their neighborhoods almost daily.
Farm support activities, the domain of third grade middle school students, have long been a conventional method of exploiting North Korean child labor. Every spring the kids have to build seedbeds of corn, transplant rice for more than ten days in summer and then help bring in the harvest for a full month in fall.
They are made to harvest crops until late in the evening, while five or six students are put up in each farmer’s house for the duration. In summer, schools give the students ten days vacation, in which they are ordered to collect fresh bracken and other wild plants.
The authorities in cities and towns periodically mobilize students and factory workers to repair railroads or roads as well. Sunday, the only official day-off in North Korea, is now a day for mobilizing students instead.
Since social mobilization comes frequently, students are often far from their studies, so teachers simply devote themselves to the maintenance of schools.
Since the March of Tribulation in the late 1990s, the atmosphere in the education sector has changed a lot. Since that time, the authorities have found it difficult to push students into social mobilization, since they can’t even afford lunch, or to manage schools, because the number of those who are willing to give up their chance of an education has drastically increased.
A source from Hoiryeong, North Pyongan Province reported recently that the percentage of students who go to school is now 62 percent, according to a recent report from the education department of Hoiryeong’s municipal Party Committee.
Absence from school is more serious on Saturday than on any other day because there are weekly evaluation meetings on the students’ daily lives, and several other onerous and to-be-avoided tasks like the offering of rabbit furs or metal scraps.
Meanwhile, the North Korean authorities have been focusing on inspiring student loyalty to the ongoing 150-Day Battle, but the result has been quite the opposite.
In 1980, the first work on the daily student routine was a “Sincerity Task;” cleaning up the surroundings of the local Kim Il Sung statue, portraits and the like. Students naturally addressed the task with care and diligence.
However, the number of students seen even doing such things has decreased markedly since the early 1990s, let alone doing it well. Moreover, students who are prepared to undertake such tasks are branded “brown noses.”
One recent example can be found in Hyesan: in advance of the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s death on July 8, the authorities mobilized local students to clean up the Bocheonbo Battle Monument. Yet, on one of the allocated days only a few students turned up, while on other days there was no one there at all, according to our source.