North Korea Education Reform Echoes Familiar Challenges

Thanks to its increasingly aggressive public positions, much of the world’s attention has been riveted on North Korea in recent months. And although its military capability has been examined closely by experts, lawmakers and reporters, the changes it has been making to its primary and secondary education system haven’t drawn the same levels of scrutiny. [...]

Thanks to its increasingly aggressive public positions, much of the world’s attention has been riveted on North Korea in recent months. And although its military capability has been examined closely by experts, lawmakers and reporters, the changes it has been making to its primary and secondary education system haven’t drawn the same levels of scrutiny.

According to the official propaganda voice of North Korea, education reform has been a key issue for the country’s leadership since the assumption of power by current ruler Kim Jong-un after the passing of his father Kim Jong-il. Last fall, the country’s Supreme People’s Assembly approved an education bill that would expand by one year the compulsory period of education for the country’s students as well as divide its secondary school curriculum into three two-year chunks.

However, experts on North Korea are skeptical that the country has the necessary resources to implement all these changes in time for the traditional start of the academic year this April.

“Since Kim Jong-un took power, North Korea has been focusing on education reforms, but the conditions for training teachers and procuring education tools and materials are not that easy given the (difficult) environment the country is facing domestically and externally,” said Yang Moo-jin, a political science professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “The country may take some time and face difficulties in the short run before the new system takes off.”

It appears that the changes and the quick timeline for their adoption are putting pressure on the teachers to change the way they approach learning in order to put the country better in line with technological and scientific needs of the modern world. According to state media, teacher training is going to be a key barrier for the regime to overcome if they wish to see the changes adopted successfully.

The skepticism doesn’t just come from analysts abroad. Some have been voicing concerns about the new education plan closer to home.

The country has hailed the decision as a means of advancing its capabilities in the science-technology field, but a North Korean newspaper article raised skepticism over whether the country is ready for its implementation.

In the article carried by the mainstream newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Tuesday, Kim Yong-chol, an official at Kim Hyung-jik University of Education, said, “one of the pressing issues for successfully implementing the 12-year compulsory education system is teacher training.”

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