North Korea Fails to Uphold New Uniform Pledge for Nation’s Students

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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.

Authorities in North Korea have failed to deliver on a promise to outfit all students with updated school uniforms ahead of the April 1 new school semester and the April 15 birthday anniversary of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, according to sources.

The regime announced in recent months that it would supply newly designed uniforms to students as a present from leader Kim Jong Un, but one month after the start of the semester and two weeks after the 103rd birthday of his grandfather and the late President Kim Il Sung, shortages of electricity and raw materials have hampered production, the sources said.

They said that while new uniforms have been supplied to all university students—who number relatively few in comparison—only the lowest grade students of the country’s elementary, middle, high and vocational schools have received their outfits, suggesting more than half of all students are wearing old outfits.

“School uniforms were scheduled to be supplied according to grade, but North Korean authorities have asked students to be patient—it remains unclear how long they will have to wait,” a source from North Pyongan province told RFA’s Korean Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The factories making school uniforms have not operated at capacity due to full mobilization for farming in early May, so the uniforms will not be supplied on time,” he said.

The source said he expects uniforms will be delivered to all students either “this summer or by year-end,” suggesting resources could be reallocated to the scheme by then.

A second source from Pyongyang, who spoke to RFA while traveling in China, said the partial delivery of uniforms had frustrated students who had not received the new clothing.

“If it continues this way, graduating seniors will matriculate without wearing new school uniforms,” said the source, who also declined to be named.

“Students wearing new uniforms are currently intermingled with those wearing old ones from elementary to vocational schools across the country, setting an awkward scene,” he said.

Failing expectations

The source said that even the arrival of the available new uniforms had been received by students with less enthusiasm than expected.

“The quality of the design and the fabric of the newly supplied school uniforms seem worse than what authorities had boasted,” he said.

“It is disappointing students who expected to get good-quality and fancy new school uniforms, as authorities had prohibited residents from buying cloth and making school uniforms on their own.”

The sources added that as authorities had failed to supply uniforms to all students ahead of the new semester and in honor of Kim Il Sung’s birthday, the younger Kim had sullied his public reputation.

A lack of shiny new uniforms for the nation’s students may be the least of the problems for the reclusive nation’s education sector, however.

In July last year, sources told RFA that 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.

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, the sources said.

Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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