North Korea promises improvements to its education system

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leaders on Tuesday ended a rare second session of parliament in a single year without making the economic reform announcements expected by many analysts.

The one-day session instead ended with an announcement of changes to the isolated country’s education system, including the addition of a year of free education that analysts said was potentially popular with the North Korean people.

It is unclear what the silence on economic reforms means. Recent reports from the South Korean press and Seoul-based websites that rely on sources in North Korea have said that the country’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, is considering a series of significant changes in an attempt to revive the moribund economy, including giving more incentives to farms and factories to increase productivity.

The country has started economic reforms in the past, but then backtracked.

South Korean analysts have said that by placing education at the center of the first policy changes made public under his leadership, Mr Kim was trying to bolster public confidence in the country’s dynastic rule.

“Perhaps North Korea thought its economic programs were still in too early and too experimental a stage of development to be made public,” said Chang Yong-seok of the Institute for Peace and Peace Studies. the unification of Seoul National University. “Instead, Kim Jong-un presented what could be a more ambitious and longer-term plan to normalize his country’s education system.”

The move would appear to be consistent with Mr. Kim’s attempts in recent months to at least appear open to change and attuned to the needs of his people. North Korea’s education system has been in shambles since a famine in the 1990s deprived most schools of heating fuel, adequate food rations and school supplies, deprivations that some analysts say continue today. .

The auto-approval legislature extended compulsory education from 11 to 12, promised more classrooms and said teachers would have priority in distributing food and fuel rations, according to the official North Korean news agency.

The Supreme People’s Assembly also pledged to end the “uncontrolled mobilization of students” for extracurricular activities. The official report did not specify this; However, since famine hit North Korea in the mid-1990s, mobilizing students to collect firewood and human and animal waste for fertilizer has become common practice in schools across the country. and a major parental grievance, according to the defectors.

The report did not say how the North would fund the first major overhaul of its education system in four decades, and it is unclear how far the government will be willing to go to change an education system that defectors say concentrates a much of his time on the state. Propaganda. (According to the defectors, the students learned to add and subtract by counting the number of “American imperialist enemies” they want to kill, and Tuesday’s North Korean report said the ideological education would continue.)

Although the report stresses the importance of computer education, the country does not seem to have loosened its grip on information so far. Except for its elite, the country is cut off from the internet, although the government has recently pointed out that its businesses are increasingly using computers.

Since taking over after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in December, Kim Jong-un has sought to project an image of a young leader who is accessible to his people, and in particular one who cares for the country children. He dedicated one of his first public speeches to North Korean children, ordered improvements to amusement parks, and was photographed in state media holding kindergartners in his lap.

The lawmaker said extending the number of years of schooling for children was intended to meet the demands of “the era of knowledge-based economy and global trend”, a term that has been favored under M Kim.

The report, which stresses the need for proficiency in foreign languages, says lawmakers promised to build more classrooms and dormitories and ensure that school buses run on time.

“Kim Jong-un is trying to rebuild loyalty to his socialist system by emphasizing free compulsory education,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “One more year of education is also producing a better workforce for the regime.”

Meanwhile, construction of a new North Korean launch pad designed to support testing of rockets larger than the one tested in April is slowing, said 38 North, a website affiliated with Johns Hopkins University. He cited commercial satellite images taken from the Musudan-ri site on the country’s northeast coast on August 29.

North Korea has halted construction of fuel and oxidizer buildings at the site, possibly due to recent heavy rains, 38 North said. The slowdown could delay the completion of the new complex, originally estimated in the middle of this decade, by one to two years, he said.

But he said the same images indicated North Korea was refurbishing the existing launch pad, last used in 2009 to test fire the Unha-2 rocket. The Unha-3 rocket that was launched in April lifted off from a separate site near the northwestern tip of the country.

All of these rockets failed to complete their scheduled flights, indicating that North Korea still has a long way to go before it masters the technology needed to deliver a warhead on intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Janice G. Ball