Students in N. Hamgyong under pressure to pay for school computers
A number of schools in North Korea are reportedly asking students to pay for the development of computer facilities and imposing money-earning tasks on them during the winter break. The orders are said to have arisen from Kim Jong Un’s desire to achieve modernization in the educational field.
A Daily NK source in North Hamgyong Province reported on January 15 that a number of schools in Hoeryong City, including Ingye High School, have ordered students to “prepare money during the winter break to purchase computers.”
"The schools are emphasizing the collection of funds for computers as a priority task for vacation homework,” the source said. “Based on the current market price, students are required to collect 50-100 yuan per person. In North Korean currency, 50-100 yuan is equal to 6-12,000 KPW, so students are being asked for the equivalent donation of 13-26 kg worth of rice at market prices."
The North Korean authorities have a history of ordering students to earn foreign currency by assigning them with specific tasks during school holidays. In the 1970s, the regime introduced a foreign currency earning policy for students, calling on them to contribute scrap metal and rabbit skins, supposedly to support the construction of a prosperous socialist state.
The vacation tasks assigned differ according to the region and circumstances, reflecting each school's ‘designated tasks' and regional characteristics. For example, students are sometimes ordered to collect local specialities.
Since Kim Jong Un came to power, the overall burden on students has reportedly increased. As is the case for students at Ingye High School, the pressure to purchase material to “propel the country into the information age” coincides with other devotion-based beautification projects like cleaning statues and portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
"Following Kim Jong Il's time, Kim Jong Un has been further emphasizing an 'education revolution in the new century,' and 'improving the quality of education.' Accordingly, schools are competing to prepare computers in order to achieve the Marshal’s (Kim Jong Un) orders," the source explained.
However, as the majority of North Korean high schools lack funding, the students are forced to make up for the shortfall.
"School teachers are turning up the heat on students in the name of achieving the Marshal’s orders, but in reality, they are also planning to keep some of the money for themselves. As most teachers are also in financial difficulties, it’s an opportunity for them to supplement their paltry income," an additional source in North Hamgyong Province said.
Some teachers order students to prepare enough funds to purchase an expensive model but then secretly buy used or outdated computers and keep the leftover money for themselves.
The source noted that students spend their vacation in different ways, according to their socioeconomic status.
"Most of the high school students in rural areas are making money by going to the mountains in the morning to collect wood or go to the market with their parents. But students from rich families are able to stay at home and study," he added.
The source also pointed out that the burden of preparing the money also affects the parents of the students.
Students who fail to carry out vacation assignments are verbally castigated in front of their classmates and receive punishments that make their school life miserable. So most parents do everything they can to fulfill the fundraising tasks so that their children will not face difficulties.
The task of "preparing money to purchase computers" also highlights the popularity of laptop computers that is reportedly spreading across North Korea. The trend began in the early 2000s and has widened since Kim Jong Un took power.
One trader currently in China said, "There are various ways to send laptop computers into North Korea, including through private traders or through Sinuiju and Najin Port. Many kinds of computers of varying prices and from different manufacturing origins are imported into North Korea."
In regard to the growing trend for buying laptop computers in North Korea, the trader added, "The trend is associated with competition between students, especially for college students. Students often feel the urge to buy a better computer if their friend buys a brand new one. Accordingly, the demand for computers is constantly increasing due to competition."