Rising Schooling Costs Sends North Korea’s Dropout Rate Soaring

nkorea-school-2013.gif North Korean school children stand before the portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-Sung (top L) and Kim Jong-Il (top R) at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun mausoleum in Pyongyang, July 25, 2013.

Rising education costs in primary and secondary schools in North Korea have led to a high drop-out rate across the country, with some parents turning to private tutors to school their children, sources say.

Limited professional opportunities and mandatory conscription on graduation are also causing North Korean families to question the value of an education they find themselves facing greater burdens to pay for, a source in North Hamkyung province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“If they can’t be an executive, why go to school?” the source asked, adding, “There are many parents who don’t send their children to school because they will have to go right into the army when they graduate.”

Students found to be “normally developed” at the end of their schooling are given physical exams to determine their fitness for military service, the source said.

“But children kept out of school because of stomach ulcers, tuberculosis, or malnutrition are exempt from these exams,” he said, adding that medical certificates attesting to poor health conditions can also be obtained from doctors for a small fee.

The source was unable to give a precise dropout rate or the areas in North Korea where the problem is prevalent.

But sources indicated that the dropout rate was rising in rural areas where support from the central government has been lacking.


Separately, a source in Yanggang province, bordering China, said that parents of school-age children now must pay for schooling costs ranging from “textbooks to workbooks” and must bear the expense of schools’ normal operating outlays, including heating in winter and the repair of window frames.

In Yanggang’s Hyehwa Middle School, for example, the total money collected from students comes to the equivalent of about U.S. $33 per year “what with one thing or another,” he said.

Increasingly, parents who can’t handle these costs turn to private tutors to educate their children, he said.

“Tutors receive about U.S. $2 per month for teaching Chinese or English, about U.S. $1.70 for teaching music and mathematics, about U.S. $1.30 for teaching Chinese writing and literature.”

“At these costs, children can be educated without sending them to school,” he said, adding that North Korean educational authorities are “very worried” by the trend.

Though music, computers, and foreign languages are among the most popular courses offered by private tutors in North Korea, “other private courses are offered as well,” Andrei Lankov, a Seoul-based North Korea expert told RFA in a recent interview.

“But it is unclear whether such private education can continue,” he added.

“The North Korean authorities are reportedly conducting heavy crackdowns against providers and receivers of private education.”

Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jina Lee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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