North Korean authorities recently conducted an investigation into why the number of new elementary students in the country has fallen so much compared to last year, Daily NK has learned.

According to a source in North Hamgyong Province on Friday, local Ministry of Social Security offices and education ministry officials conducted an investigation into the issue from late June to early July. The investigation came after the education ministry ordered all schools to close again because of COVID-19.

According to a report written by the Ministry of Social Security’s Resident Registration Department, only around 70% of the students who should have entered elementary school have actually done so.

The authorities tried to analyze why this was the case and one theory suggested it may be because of the country’s reduced birth rate. One of the most prominent theories, however, was that parents refrained from sending their kids to school because it just costs too much.

This theory is backed up by the fact that parents have to pay for school clothes, shoes, school bags, and even school supplies in the country. Given that parents are already burdened by other expenditures – such as contributing money to construction projects – paying for school may be too much for many of them.

North Koreans facing even more dire economic conditions think that there is really no reason to send their kids to school because it is better for them to “engage in business” when they are older or “raise animals” to make money, according to the source.

The Ministry of Social Security report pointed out that students who did not enter elementary school instead find themselves in farm fields or picking greens in the mountains with their parents, he added.

In light of the report, the authorities now plan to ensure that parents who are not sending their kids to elementary school this year will be encouraged to do so through local party committees at workplaces and inminban (North Korea’s lowest administrative unit).

“Local officials and school staff think that [despite these efforts] these students won’t be heading to school anytime soon given the poverty their parents are facing,” the source said.

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.