North Korean authorities are eradicating unofficial day care centers and preschools under the pretext of standardizing the state system, but sources inside the impoverished country say that many hurdles remain before the centralized service can effectively mind the nation’s children.
A recent directive from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered all privately run child care facilities closed and threatened owners who continue to operate their businesses with tough penalties, a source from Yanggang province told RFA’s Korean Service.
The crackdown stemmed from “Kim Jong Un’s instruction on the child educational system,” the source said.
“Due to this order, if someone is discovered operating an illegal day care center or preschool, he or she will be expelled to a rural area.”
The source said that independent facilities have thrived across North Korea because official day care centers and preschools place children in “a bad educational environment” and “do not even provide a daily meal.”
But he added that regardless of the shortcomings of the national system, Kim’s edict had effectively shuttered private child care operations in North Korea.
A source from North Hamgyong province said that Kim’s order followed the young leader’s inspection of the National Institute of Science, where he spoke on the educational difficulties facing the children of young scientists.
“A special department for child education has been established in each provincial education office in accordance with Kim Jong Un’s order,” he said.
“Kim Jong Un said that ‘all children have the right to receive an education because day care centers and preschools are also educational institutes, and the [ruling] North Korean Workers’ Party should unconditionally ensure heating and lunches for children’.”
However, a second source from North Hamgyong province told RFA that the standardization of the child education system “would not be easy,” adding that “even if the firewood and lunch problems are taken care of, not all of the issues will be resolved.”
“Educational and recreational equipment would also have to be replaced [in the majority of facilities].”
According to the source, North Koreans are skeptical of Kim’s order because they believe that it will not be carried out in full, while many say that if teachers do not receive sufficient rations, they will not have the energy to instruct and care for their children.
In September 2012, North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament decided to extend the compulsory education period from 11 to 12 years in the first policy change under Kim Jong Un made public by state media.
The period would include one year of pre-school, five years of elementary school, three years of primary middle school, and three years of advanced middle school, reports have said.
The education system in the impoverished nation has been in ruins since a famine in the 1990s deprived most schools of heating fuel, adequate food rations, and school supplies. The situation remains largely unchanged today.
Under the changes approved by the legislature, more classrooms and teachers will be given priority in the distribution of food and fuel rations, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Doeun Han. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.