Free Education Is Never Free

Kang Mi Jin  |  2011-06-20 16:21
Recent protests in South Korea over spiraling college tuition fees have drawn the attention of North Korea, whose constitution contains the nominal right to free, universal education.

Uriminjokkiri, the propaganda website run by the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, released an article at the end of last week, Looking at Two Systems through Education for the Next Generation, in which it proclaimed, In our Republic, a country of learning, a country of education, everyone lives a happy life and learns to their hearts content, benefiting from free education.

However, South Chosun, unlike the Republic, is a place with an anti-the people educational policy, a place where school is a gigantic tool to earn money.

It continued, Having free education is a basic precondition for guaranteeing the right to education, by releasing the burden of educational expenses.

However, defectors testify with one voice to the fact that in modern North Korea, free education is an oxymoron. Instead, they say that even elementary school students must pay money for firewood, the repairing of school facilities and to make donations to the Peoples Army or construction units.

The bribes needed to enter university are substantial, too. To gain entrance to a university in Pyongyang can cost up to $1,000, and for a provincial university between $300 and $500.

Kim Yong Cheol, a 22-year old who joined Hyesan College of Education in 2007 but defected to Seoul in 2009, explained to The Daily NK, If they offer some money to the relevant university and the Education Department then they can possibly get into the university; students who do not have a good school record want to enter that university even though it requires bribery.

Cho Hyun Mee, a 26-year old studying at Seoul National University said, When I joined a university in Chongjin, the city Education Department demanded a computer, so I sold a television set to collect money and bought them a laptop. Thanks to the laptop, Cho was shown the type and range of the entrance examination.

College education was not even free in the 1980s and early 1990s, a much better time for North Korea. Lee Mi Suk, who is now 43, explained, I got a scholarship of seven won as a freshman, 15 won as a sophomore and 30 won for top grade in my department. However, I had to pay the dormitory costs (20 won a month) and other costs such as loyalty foreign currency funds, money for classroom decoration and more.

Lee went on, Now, students must pay 25,000 won a month for firewood in winter, and pay around 40,000 won per month on average. This is partly because students face several types of mobilization, including collecting wild plants, but since it is difficult to collect the amounts demanded, they have to pay money instead.
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