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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 232 (October 18, 2012)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

N. Korea Striving to Cultivate 'Economic Reform Workers' for Thriving Nation

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amid its prolonged economic hardships, North Korea is striving to cultivate as many members of its young generation as possible to become "socialist workers" to rehabilitate its faltering economy and improve the standard of living of its people.

   This campaign is believed to have started anew, as the socialist country is pushing ahead with the new economic measures that are known to be adopting capitalistic aspects in its strict state-controlled economy.

   More recently, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in a bid to support the nation's economic rehabilitation efforts, made a remark on the need for economic subject education to make the impoverished country to become a thriving nation as pledged by his predecessor and father, Kim Jong-il.

   The young leader made the remark in a letter on Oct. 12 sent to the two revolutionary schools -- Mangyongdae Revolutionary School and Kang Pan-sok Revolutionary School. The letter was conveyed to the participants in a meeting held to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the schools that day.

   "Kang Pan Sok Revolutionary School should raise the quality of education in economic subjects and bring up all students to be women revolutionaries of songun era and true daughters of the party who can successfully perform the core role in the drive for building a great Mt. Paektu nation," according to the English-language report carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   Emphasizing the importance of computer and foreign language education, Kim urged the schools to direct efforts to education to prepare students as revolutionary talents with a high level of scientific and technological knowledge, as well as education in basic sciences, including mathematics.

   "The schools should pay special attention to intensifying computer education. It is necessary to channel efforts into the education in foreign languages so as to help students master at least one foreign language and speak foreign languages fluently."

   "It is imperative to effectively conduct education in Kim Jong-il's patriotism so that students may become true patriots of the songun (military-first) era who devote their all to the prosperity of the socialist country and its people's happiness," he noted.

   The two revolutionary schools have trained young and talented students to become future leaders of North Korea. The two schools have produced many influential figures such as Jang Song-thaek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, and Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the (North) Korean People's Army.

   In this sense, Kim Jong-un's remark on the importance of economic subjects is an indication of the country's desire for cultivating young generation to make them become economy-related workers.

   It is also regarded as follow-up measures to the new 12-year compulsory education system approved by the North Korean parliament. During the Supreme People's Assembly session on Sept. 25, the country approved the new system designed to drastically improve and strengthen secondary general education and further consolidate the socialist education system.

   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, according to North Korea's SPA Chairman Choe Thae-bok in his speech at the parliamentary session.

   In this regard, there is a report that the North Korean leader has a flexible attitude toward economic reform. Japan's Mainichi Shimbun said recently that Kim was known to have told his men that "it is okay even if the country fails in its economic reform measures."

   The newspaper made the report quoting a senior North Korean official who is in charge of economic policies in North Korea. If Kim's remark is true, he intended to raise the morale of North Korean officials who are pushing for the ongoing June 28 economic improvement reform measures. The reform measures have not yet been made public, though outsiders say they are already in effect.

   Under the reform measures, North Korean farmers, who have long been required to turn most of their harvest over to the state, may instead be allowed to keep their surplus crops to sell or barter in what could be the most significant economic change enacted since Kim came to power last December.

   North Korea's changes in economic policy have also been detected in other sectors. North Korean officials and media outlets have frequently emphasized the need to follow global trends in its economic policy. Other reforms include shifts in investment laws and new industrial profit-sharing regulations.

   Under the changing situation, the socialist country is also desperate to learn more about the market economy from abroad. For example, a North Korean business and trade mission comprising people from universities, export firms and government authorities visited Sweden from late September to early October. The North Koreans reportedly had opportunities to study the aspects of market economies such as international trade, marketing, price and wage formulation.

   In addition, an international seminar to be held in the Rason Special Economic Zone in November will provide a fresh opportunity for North Korean officials and business people to understand the market economy and foreign trade.

   Such efforts by North Korea to rehabilitate its faltering economy coincide with its emphasis on the economy and the role of the Cabinet since the advent of Kim Jong-un.

   As the Cabinet's importance has grown, the North Korean leadership has also given Premier Choe Yong-rim more hand in controlling the overall economic policies. Recently, former premier Pak Pong-ju, who was previously demoted for his failure of economic policies, has now returned to a major post of the ruling Workers' Party.

   Since taking the helm, Kim Jong-un has placed more of an emphasis on the role of the Workers' Party than the military, which had formerly been the backbone of the power base.

   For the junior Kim, one of the major tasks in the process of consolidating his power is to shore up the economy and secure firm public support for his fledgling leadership.

   In a related development, the North Korean education authorities are known to be adopting a new middle school education course similar to vocational training courses in South Korea.

   In a follow-up measure to the new education system that was approved by the SPA in late September, the North has decided to create a new vocational training course for students that are not entitled to advance to university, according to a report by a North Korea-focused Internet news outlet in Seoul.

   As North Korea's parliament has approved legislation to extend its compulsory education to 12 years from 11 years, 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).

   When North Korean students go to the three years of high school, however, they will have different education courses according to their talents and scores, said the Seoul-based Daily NK.

   The three years of high school courses are divided into primary and middle courses. Primary course students are entitled to enter university, but the middle course students must enroll in technical and commercial education instead of advancing to university.