North Korea has once again increased the number of secondary schools for gifted students, making the institutions less selective and reducing their role as guaranteed shortcuts to elite universities in Pyongyang, sources in the country said.
Until recently, North Korea’s nine provinces and the capital Pyongyang each had just one advanced-track senior middle school, a type of combined middle and high school which runs on a more intensive curriculum than a regular secondary school.
Some provinces now run more than one senior middle school reserved for top-notch students, sources said.
“There are multiple gifted senior middle schools operating now in cities such as Chongjin and Hamhung,” one source told RFA’s Korean Service, referring to the capitals of North and South Hamgyong provinces respectively.
Students at such schools are groomed for university education, where they are exempted from military service and welcomed into the country’s elite.
Before 2008, provinces had operated many of the advanced-track schools, but that year authorities returned to the original system of having one per province.
Now that there are more schools for gifted students, it has gotten easier for most students to gain admission to one, the same source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The difficulty of getting admission to these gifted schools has eased somewhat,” the source said.
However, for less privileged students, attending the schools has become even more difficult because some have gotten rid of their dormitories, he added.
No more guarantees
With more students on the advanced track, the schools are no longer a surefire way into university and out of military service, another source said.
"The schools for gifted students are given the highest admittance quotas from the prestigious universities in Pyongyang, as well as other provinces’ four-year universities. Thus attendance at a gifted school has been a shortcut to getting accepted to prestigious colleges.”
“Since the number of schools for gifted students has increased recently, students attending those schools are no longer guaranteed to be admitted to the prestigious four-year colleges,” the source said.
Getting exempted from military service upon admission to university used to be “one of the greatest perks” of attending a school for gifted students, he added.
North Korea first introduced the schools for gifted students in 1983, establishing one in each of the country’s nine provinces and in the capital.
By 1999, the number was greatly expanded to some 200 gifted students’ schools.
But in 2008, authorities returned to the original system of having just one school for gifted students in Pyongyang and each province, turning the others into regular schools.
Reported by Joon-ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Min Seon Kim. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.