Universal free education is a trademark of most socialist countries and North Korea is no exception in this regard. Free Pre-school, primary, secondary and higher level education is offered to all. Compulsory primary and secondary education was introduced in 1956 and 1958 respectively and from 2012 minimum education requirements became 12 years (formally 11) – one year of pre-school, five years of elementary school, three years of primary middle school, and three years of advanced middle school.
In addition to education for children, the country has a network of adult education centres where workers can take night classes in a wide range of disciplines. The best known of these ‘people’s’ study places is the Grand People’s Study House which we visited in Pyongyang.
In Sinuiju we visited two schools, a kindergarten (see my separate review on this page) and this primary school the name of which I did not catch, but this being North Korea you need not know the name as you will not be wandering around looking for it by yourself anyway. You will be taken here!
As you can see from my attached pictures the school offered a wide ranging curriculum.
As you would expect basic academic classes form the core of the school’s curriculum. The class in my first picture is a mathematics class where the children are doubtlessly struggling, as most of us did, with their algebra, though perhaps they struggle less here, drawing inspiration from the ever present and watchful Kim pictures above the blackboard.
From here we moved on to an art class where the children were putting the finishing touches to some rather intricate real-life drawings. I have to say I scratched my head here wondering if the same children had actually brought the drawings to the stage they were at.
Music seems to play a very big role in children’s education in North Korea. We had been entertained by some absolutely amazingly talented senior school children in Pyongyang at the Mangyondae Children’s Palace and later today we would be entertained with an even more spectacular performance at a kindergarten school here in Sinuiju.
Here at this school, we got to look-in on a number of one on one music lessons – the guy on the violin in my third picture was especially talented – I would love to have been able to spend a lot more time listening to his playing.
While this school appears to be reasonably well equipped and funded, if getting a bit tired looking, the more typical North Korean school, allegedly, lacks equipment, study materials, heating and food for the children (and teachers). I recently read an article about an increase in the number of unofficial day care centres and pre-schools springing up in the country due to deficiencies in the state run education system. Earlier this year (2014) a decree was issued by the leader, Kim Jong-un, outlawing these unofficial centres and indicating that people discovered operating them would be “expelled to a rural area”. At the same time, he ordered that “the [ruling] North Korean Workers’ Party should unconditionally ensure heating and lunches for children”. Doubtless, heating and lunches (however loosely defined) will be provided and this revolutionary tendency towards private enterprise will cease and Kim Jong-un’s control over this vital area will not be watered down.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my trip to Sinuiju, North Korea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Looking at Dandong from Sinuiju – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – In North Korea – On the Border with China.