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Public executions during school field trips, propagandistic literature and peculiar geography lessons.
Foreigners are not really aware of North Korean education system. The majority thinks that in schools in the DPRK there is only brainwashing, nothing else. We tried to state our own opinion on the subject of North Korean education system based on the stories of those who used to be a part of it.
Monique Masias from New Guinea who used to study at a military boarding school in Pyongyang says that schoolchildren there study almost the same things as pupils all over the world. For example, Western literature: Tolstoy, Hugo, Shakespeare, Jane Austen. According to Monique, North Korean students experience a lot of pressure at school as all of them strive to be the best students. That is why they study really hard which results in having a better general knowledge than students in other countries do. Monique highlighted that in her opinion North Korean students have better knowledge of geography than foreign students. She mentioned that North Koreans study world history such as the two world wars or how the US was founded. They are also taught about communism and about the atrocities committed by the Americans during the Korean War. However, historical facts that contradict official North Korean propaganda are distorted. So every North Korean is sure that the Korean War was started by “puppet” South Korea, not vice versa. The compulsory part of school program is studying the basic rules of communism; Marx, Lenin and Kim Il Sung’s papers. Children are explained that North Korea is now in a socialism state and that time is needed to build communism. Even though North Koreans know about other cultures as they study geography they are also taught “how capitalism makes you so poor and live in devastation” as they are being shown pictures of starving people in Africa to illustrate that people outside the DPRK live in suffering. Every North Korean from his childhood knows that other countries especially the US are to blame for North Korea’s problems.
Yoon Mi Na, a refugee from North Korea, says that after school there are some compulsory activities which include “collecting recyclable garbage such as paper, glass, rubber or rabbit skin, working at construction fields or assisting with chores in collective farms”.
Another refugee, Kim Jae Young, says that North Koreans have access to translated foreign literature, but it is strictly censored and edited out of its original form. Children usually read propagandistic literature about life of Kim Il-sung or war heroes. The point is they don’t often realize that the majority of these stories are fiction not based on true events.
Lee Song Min left North Korea in December, 2009, and currently resides in Canada. That is what he recalls from his childhood: “In kindergarten, there they have races for students and as part of the race, there’s a mannequin of an American soldier that the kids have to hit on their way by. We’re taught that Americans are animals that will kill us, and many North Koreans have that mindset still. They think the Americans will invade and enslave North Korea”.
Gwang Choel who now lives in South Korea says that the first time he witnessed a public execution was during a compulsory school “field trip” when he was 14. He saw 4 soldiers being shot, 3 gunshots at each of them. He says that it was during this “field trip” when he clearly understood the message of the government: “I should never do anything the country doesn’t want me to do”.
Statements of North Korean defectors prove that despite the fact that North Korean students try to do their best at school there exists a huge gap in education between them and students from other countries as North Korean education system’s aim is not to give proper education but to bring up citizens who don’t question the official ideology. There is no wonder why high-ranking North Korean officials send their children to study abroad.