In the past, North Koreans who settled for careers as scientists and engineers were doomed to a life of relative poverty.
But now the five-year-old regime of current leader Kim Jong Un is granting exceptional privileges to scientists and engineers who study nuclear and missile technology and development, sources inside the country said.
As a result, parents have displayed an eagerness to raise their children to become scientists, they said.
“Scientists who used to live with a tight budget are now receiving the highest level of treatment for nuclear and missile development since Kim Jong Un came to power.
“Apartment buildings for scientists and engineers were built in Pyongyang, and the [Korean Workers’ Party] Central Committee decided to give preference to scientists for new apartment buildings under construction in every province,” said a source in North Hamgyong province, who requested anonymity.
This situation marks a significant break with the past when most North Koreans shunned careers as scientists because of meager rewards for their efforts.
“In the past, the prize for winning a singing contest was a color television, but those who won prizes at science and technology exhibitions only received a ceramic flower vase,” the source told RFA’s Korean Service.
Up to the era of Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather who ruled the country from its establishment in 1948 to his death in 1994, the main goal of North Korean parents was to raise their children to become artists, he said.
During the rule of Kim Jong Il, father of Kim Jong Un who led the nation from 1994 to 2011, parents aspired to raise their children to become executives of the ruling political party—the Workers’ Party of Korea—judicial authorities, or professionals who could earn foreign currency, he said.
It was after the rule of Kim Il Sung that North Korea established a Senior Middle School No. 1 in each of the country’s nine provinces to cultivate talented scientists, the source said.
Students who went on to major in science and engineering at the university level, however, were the ones who suffered financial hardship the most because they were not able to freely sell goods at markets to earn money, and there were no national funds to support them, he said.
“Private tutors of musical instruments or dance were the ones who earned the most money until the Kim Jong Il era,” said a source from Yanggang province who requested anonymity. “But now it is private tutors who teach math, physics, and science who are earning the most money.”
When Kim Jong Un became supreme leader of North Korea, scientists began receiving favorable treatment, including increased food supplies, he said.
“All parents now have an obsessive desire to raise their children to become scientists,” the source said.
People with university degrees in science and engineering are exempt from compulsory military service and receive nice government-appointed living accommodations so they can live stable lives, while others who study unpopular academic subjects such as the social sciences are faring poorly, he said.
The move comes as Kim Jong Un’s regime has been test-firing ballistic missiles and nuclear devices at an unprecedented rate, ratcheting up tensions on the Korean Peninsula and drawing condemnation from the United States, its Asian allies, and the international community.
Pyongyang has said it has developed a missile that can strike the U.S. mainland, though experts have expressed skepticism that the country possesses such technology.
North Korea continues to launch ballistic missiles in defiance of U.S. warnings and United Nations sanctions, with the latest one occurring on May 14, when a missile traveled about 700 kilometers (435 miles) and landed in the East Sea or Sea of Japan, according to South Korea’s military.
Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.