Textbook shortage in North Korea underscores unequal policy

Kim Yoo Jin  |  2018-05-07 19:19

North Korean students using laptop computers at a school for the gifted and talented at
Pyongyang's Moranbong Number One Middle School. Image: Yonhap News Agency

Frustration is rising among students and parents who have still not received their textbooks one month after the start of the spring semester.

This year, the central education management office sent schools an insufficient number of textbooks to provide to their students, said an inside source from South Hamgyong Province during a telephone conversation with Daily NK on May 4.  

According to the source, one local elementary-middle school in the province received only 15-20 math books for each class of 30-35 students, and only 10 English textbooks. Only around 60% of students studying English have received a book to use for the subject.  

The same problem has been noted in other regions as well. A North Hamgyong Province source said, There are fights breaking out between the first grade students over English books at an elementary school in a rural school in Chongjin.

When asked about the origin of the shortage, the North Hamgyong-based source said that there are gaps between Kim Jong Uns policy of strengthening education and actual implementation.

The original textbooks were small and light but they had enough lessons. But Kim Jong Un has ordered that education be strengthened and the books be changed, which is causing the present difficulties, she said.

The new textbooks that are replacing the old ones were originally used in Number One Schools (where the children of party cadres and the gifted attend). It's a larger and heavier book, and so making it requires lots of foreign currency to buy the paper. In a country in difficult circumstances, this isn't easy, she added.

Many students and their parents have spent the past month scouring markets to find the books, to no avail.

In the past, computer-made black pamphlet textbooks were sometimes circulated, but now doing so is regarded very poorly [by the authorities], who liken it to handing out [political] leaflets. People have been threatened against printing their own textbooks, and so the practice has stopped.

The residents are upset at the prioritization of the textbook distribution, which underscores social inequality.

The order of distribution isnt determined by those students who study well and participate in organizational life activities, but rather to the students whose parents help out the teachers by lowering the burden of doing housework and lesson planning," the South Hamgyong Province-based source said, explaining that this means that the parents who bribe the teachers will have textbooks given to their children first.   

The students who have textbooks partner up with students who dont have them so they can use them together at their desks. They sometimes want to lend their books to their friends, but they are not permitted to do so."

One frustrated parent told the source, Does it even make sense that we cant provide our children with textbooks? When will our country no longer have these kinds of worries? with another adding, We adults are a big reason why the country is so poor like this.

North Korea adopted a new law in 2012 making schooling compulsory for twelve years. The textbook system was reorganized at this time, with new books entering into circulation in 2014. 
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