Education in North Korea




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North Korea - Educational Systemoverview


The educational system of North Korea consists of three types of schools. The main track is the general school system, and the other two types are schools for continuing education and schools for special purposes. The school system has maintained its basic structure since the system's major reforms in 1975 following the Party's major policy changes in 1975.

One facet of the formal education system is the general school system. The general school system is the same as school systems in other countries. It is called the general school system to differentiate it from the schools with special purposes and institutes for continuing higher education. The general school system (GSS) has kindergarten through tenth grade (K-10) elementary-secondary schools and higher education. Kindergarten has two levels for two years. The lower class begins at age four and the upper class begins at age five when free compulsory education begins. The elementary school, called people's school, begins at age six and takes four years to complete. The secondary school in North Korea is higher middle school, and it provides six years of schooling. Higher middle school has two levels. The lower-level middle school takes 4 years from age 10 to 13, and the higher-level high school takes 2 years from age 14 to 15.

Higher education has two systems for academic purposes and continuing education. Academic higher education of GSS is composed of universities (four to six years), College of Education for secondary school teachers (four years), Teachers' College for primary school teachers (three years), and junior colleges (three years). After university studies, graduate school for master and doctoral study is continued at post-Doctoral schools.

Another educational system is the continuing education system. The university or continuing higher education is attached tofactories, farms, and fishery cooperatives. The Air and Correspondence University operates a five-year curriculum.

Another type of school system is the special purpose school. This is for talented children and children from the elite class. It consists of the revolutionary school (also called elite school, beginning at age 5 and lasting for 10 years), schools for arts and sports (ages 6 to 18), schools for foreign language (ages 10 to 18), and schools for science (ages 10 to 21).



The North Korean school system consists of two stages. Primary school is called “people’s school” and secondary is “middle-high”.

The curriculum consists of classes such as Korean language, mathematics, literature and “socialist ethics” – which may be a remnant of the Japanese colonial age. Imperial Japan was fond of teaching ethics in school.

There’s also a lot of ideology: subjects include The childhood years of the Beloved and Respected Leader Generalissimo Kim Il-sung, The childhood years of the Great Guide Generalissimo Kim Jong-il, Revolutionary activities of the Beloved and Respected Leader Generalissimo Kim Il-sung, Revolutionary activities of the Great Guide Generalissimo Kim Jong-il, Revolutionary activities of the heroine of the anti-Japanese struggle mother Kim Jong-suk and, more recently, Revolutionary activities the Beloved and Respected Leader Marshal Kim Jong-un.

Foreign languages are taught from secondary school. The most common one is English and then Russian. British English is taught as a standard, but the quality of education is poor as the DPRK uses its own textbooks rather than ones published in the UK or Russia.

Native British or Russian textbooks would contain too much “dangerous” information so they are not permitted. North Korean textbooks are badly written and littered with mistakes. It also doesn’t help that children are supposed to learn phrases such as “Long live Great Leader Generalissimo Kim Il-sung” before “Hello, how are you”. 

The best North Korean schools are known as Number One schools. A small town usually has one of these, while Pyongyang has several.

North Korean dancers rest after performance during celebrations to mark anniversary of founding of North Korean Youth League in Pyongyang.


North Korean dancers after a performance to mark the founding of North Korean Youth League. Photograph: Reinhard Krause/Reuters

Number One schools are among the least corrupt institutions in the DPRK. It may be possible to bribe a principal to gain entry but after that one has to perform well and study hard to get good results.

At 10 all children join the Children’s Union – there are no exceptions. The admission is usually done in three stages. First, the best pupils in the class are admitted, then the average ones and then the rest. The Children’s Union members have a distinctive trait of wearing red neckties, a custom that comes from the USSR.

The child reads an oath of allegiance during an admission ceremony, the text of which has varied from time to time. It reds something like this, although it will have changed a bit as North Korea no longer uses the word communism:

I join the ranks of the Korean Children’s Union, founded by the Great Leader Generalissimo Kim Il-sung and shined upon by the Great Guide Commander Kim Jong-il, do hereby swear to always and everywhere think and act according to the teaching of the Generalissimo Kim Il-sung and Commander Kim Jong-il and to become a good reservist of the brilliant cause of constriction of Communism, which is carried along from generation to generation by the great revolutionary deed of Juche.

So the Children’s Union is the first of many organisations a North Korean will join in their lifetime. Other possible ones are the Youth League, the Korean Workers Party, the Women’s Union, a labor union and the Farmers’ Union. These groupings run regular “organisational life” seminars for members, instructing them in the official ideology. i.e. regular ideological sessions, among its members

Part two: Coming of age - how joining the Worker’s party is the best way to avoid working



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