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North Korea ramps up ideology lessons amid COVID-19 school closures

North Korea classroom (Samuel Orchard/WikiCommons)
March 31, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

North Korea has postponed the opening of middle and high schools until April 20 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but authorities have not eased up on the ideological indoctrination that education system’s chief aim, sources in the country told RFA.

Winter break was supposed to end Feb. 17, but authorities extended it by about five weeks to March 23. But as that date drew near, authorities responded to the global spread of the virus by postponing the school year again.

“Even though the semester has been postponed twice now, none of the middle or high school students have been assigned additional homework to be done over the vacation,” a resident of Hyesan, Ryanggang provice told RFA’s Korean Service.

“Instead, school authorities ordered the students to read and review the revolutionary exploits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il every day from their homes, while also taking time to brush up on general subjects,” said the source.

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The source said the children are excited that their break is even longer – in part, because it spares them mandatory labor.

“The kids run around saying ‘corona manse!,’” the source said, using a Korean term that roughly translates to “hooray” for corona!

“[They] say they’re excited that their winter vacation has been extended twice because they don’t have to suffer toiling away at mandatory labor they would have to do if they were going to school,” the source added.

Such words could be seen as an act of disloyalty by the government, so the source said that parents are trying to get their kids to stop brazenly being so happy about not going to school.

“Parents are afraid that the state security department will get wind of how these kids really feel, so they are trying to maintain more careful control of their children,” the source said.

“While it might be great for the kids that their start date has been postponed, their schools and parents are the ones that will be blamed if they are caught acting so recklessly when they are away from school,” the source added.

“Authorities have even announced that if a group of three or more students are caught having birthday parties or watching [foreign] movies during the extended vacation period, they will be locked up in juvenile correctional camps as punishment.”

Viewing of foreign media, especially from South Korea, is frowned upon in North Korea. While most people who get caught are allowed to get away with it by paying a bribe, when the authorities announce a particular punishment for a specific infraction, they tend to be less lenient for that infraction.

Though North Korea has yet to report a confirmed case of COVID-19, the government has taken extensive measures to contain its spread, including closing off entire counties near the Chinese border and setting up an isolation center in a large Pyongyang hotel.

Experts believe that it is very unlikely that the disease has not spread within North Korea yet, and authorities have taken no chances in a country with a bare-bones health system.

“The first day of kindergarten and elementary school has also been postponed to April 20, but we don’t know yet if colleges and universities are also going to postpone the beginning of the semester,” said a second source.