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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 229 (Sept. 27, 2012)

N. Korean Parliament Endorses 12-year Compulsory Education System

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's parliament on Sept. 25 approved legislation to extend its compulsory education to 12 years from 11 years, but there was no announcement on economic reform measures widely expected to come from the unexpected meeting of legislators.

   In its second parliamentary meeting of the year held in Pyongyang, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) also carried out a minor reshuffle of its standing committee members, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   Young leader Kim Jong-un was present at the sixth session of the 12th assembly that, under the late leader Kim Jong-il, normally gathered only once a year to pass budgets or personnel changes.

   In April, the SPA elevated Kim to first chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, consolidating his power following his father's death last December.

   "Ordinance of the DPRK (North Korea) Supreme People's Assembly on enforcing universal 12-year compulsory education was promulgated at the session," the KCNA said. Approved in the SPA meeting, chaired by Choe Thae-bok, chairman of the SPA, were only a compulsory 12-year education system and personnel decisions at its presidium, the KCNA said in an English-language dispatch.

   The meeting ended with Choe delivering his closing address, the KCNA said, diverging from heated media speculation that discussion of a reformist drive would take center stage at the gathering.

   Domestic and foreign media closely followed the session with expectations that it would deliberate on its reportedly ongoing push to renovate its agricultural production system and subdue rising food prices.

   Ever since the North unexpectedly announced plans for a meeting of the SPA early this month, expectations rose that the session would produce market reforms, as there have been signals that the closed socialist state is undergoing economic changes.

   But a Seoul official said it would have been difficult for North Korea to pursue daring reforms at such a difficult economic time when there is a limited supply of sources and materials.

   Even if the North had approved a reform drive in the latest session, it may shy away from announcing it now for fear of potential humiliation if the reform efforts fail, the government official said.

   "The North could possibly announce the results (of the reforms) later after completing its overall assessment," the official said.

   The country's previously botched reform drive in 2002, called the "July 1 measures," was announced only later through Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, in that vein, he said.

   The latest parliamentary session named two new officials to its standing committee members and appointed Kwak Pom-ki as chair of its budget committee, replacing Choe Hui-jong, science and education department chief of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK).

   "Hong In-bom, chief secretary of the South Phyongan Provincial Committee of the WPK, and Jon Yong-nam, chairman of the Central Committee of the Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League, were elected members of the SPA Presidium to fill the vacancies," according to the KCNA report.

   Kwak is a former chief of the WPK machine-building industry department and held a vice premier position for more than 11 years till June 2010. he also served as the chief secretary of the South Hamgyong Provincial Committee of the WPK till April this year.

   And he was appointed as an alternate member of the Political Bureau of the WPK as well as a secretary and director of the WPK Central Committee following the inauguration of the new Kim Jong-un regime in April.
With Kwak's new appointment this time, the young Kim is likely to push economic reform measures unveiled on June 28 this year. Kwak is one of the four technocrats who played a core role in an unsuccessful economic reform a decade ago along with Pak Pong-ju, Ro Tu-chol and Jon Sung-hun. All of them have been promoted or reinstated in recent months.

   In July 2002, the so-called Big Four tried to relax the rigid command economy by dissolving the rationing scheme, allowing street markets, raising wages and prices and adopting incentives and graded compensation. They were demoted or disappeared from sight after the ambitious program went bust in the mid-2000s.

   In recent months, positive signs have been sprouting from the impoverished state. The Swiss-educated, 20-something leader's recent public appearances and economic guidelines appear aimed at cementing his leadership.

   The moves also reflect his willingness to end the regime's long-held tradition of secrecy and adopt a more market-oriented system, optimists say. In stark contrast, the late leader Kim Jong-il only attended four parliamentary meetings since 2003.

   Rumors have abounded that Kim Jong-un, who has emphasized improving living conditions, is preparing to introduce the changes as early as Oct. 1.

   Under the June 28 measures, farmers would keep surplus food to sell at market rather than having to hand it all over to the state. Some reports have put the percentage of crops citizens can keep at 30 percent.

   The so-called June 28 measures could also allow factory enterprises to set their own prices for goods and give them more room to decide on matters such as production and distribution of profits.

   The North's latest education reform will create a system similar to that of the South.

   Previously, students in North Korea were given 11 years of compulsory education -- one year of kindergarten, four years of elementary school and six years of middle school.

   North Koreans will now be required to complete one year of kindergarten, five years of elementary school, three years of middle school (junior middle school) and three years of high school (senior middle school).

   At the SPA session, SPA chairman Choe Thae-bok said the DPRK (North Korea) government will enforce the universal 12-year compulsory education to drastically improve and strengthen the secondary general education and further consolidate the socialist education system to meet the requirements of the developing revolution and the times.

   The new educational system is aimed at helping the younger generation round off the secondary general education by teaching them general basic knowledge and basic knowledge of modern technologies in the period of the 12-year systematic education, the report noted.

   Choe also underlined the need to strengthen education in computer technology and foreign languages with a main emphasis on the education in general basic knowledge in the field of basic sciences including mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.

   He also called for kicking off an intensive drive for creating new and substantial educational methods and generalizing them as well as actively introducing test methods for correctly assessing the abilities of students.

   "All the schools should carry out the positive drive to put the teaching, experiments and practical training on an IT basis, computerize the educational administration and management and establish information communications network between the education committee and educational institutions across the country so that teachers and students can receive information necessary for the education in time," he said.

   Increased state investment in the educational field and provision of educational conditions are a sure guarantee for the successful enforcement of the universal 12-year compulsory education, he said, adding the expenditure for education should be markedly increased in the state budget, and electricity, equipment and materials needed for education be provided on a preferential basis.

   According to the ordinance, the DPRK government began requiring compulsory primary education in 1956, compulsory secondary education in 1958 and Korean-style unique universal 9-year compulsory technical education which closely combined secondary general education with basic technical education and education with production in 1967.

   In 1972 the DPRK government introduced the universal 11-year compulsory education, the first of its kind in the world. The enforcement of the universal 11-year education was a just measure for raising the level of free compulsory education, improving the contents of education and bringing up the new generations to be able revolutionaries and competent socialist builders.

   "The DPRK is now demonstrating its might as a dignified military power possessed of nuclear deterrent, a country that manufactures and launches satellites," according to the KCNA report. "Korean-style CNC technology and flexible production system have been introduced to the different domains of the national economy and a great number of Juche-based and modern heavy and light industrial bases and grand monuments have been built."

   The work for converting the four-year primary schooling to five-year primary schooling shall go through the preparatory phase to be started in the 2014-2015 school year and be finished in two to three years.