The Aim and Purpose of North Korean Education

I have often been asked what childhood education is like in North Korea, and recently I was asked the question again. It was a subject I had planned on writing about soon, I was just awaiting some sample North Korean text books from Pastor Chun. Last weekend I met up with Pastor Chun at a retreat in New Jersey and he let me take photo’s of the text books to show you. I also was able to verify again the nature of the education system with some North Korean’s before I wrote it. I think you will find the following description of an education different than anything you have ever known.

The primary goal of North Korean childhood education is “teaching” the children about the greatness of the Kim family. It begins with Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea. Though he died in 1994, he is still formally revered as the “Eternal President” by both the state and the people of North Korea. Children are educated in his incredible wisdom, and the super-human exploits he carried out as a warrior to liberate the people of North Korea. They are taught about what an incredibly humble man he was who lived at the level of the people and ate the food they ate. Following him they learn about Kim Jong Il, the son of Kim Il Sung. He is known as the “Dear Leader.” Kim Jong Il died in 2011. Finally, they are also taught about the greatness of Kim Jong Un, whom they have called the “Great Successor.” Kim Jong Un is the current president of North Korea, and grandson of Kim Jong Il. It is a family dynasty that is in its third generation.

The “education” that children receive about their leaders is not based in any sort of historical fact. It is what we in the west would really call folklore-a corpus of myths and beliefs propagated by the North Korean state. Kim Il Sung came to power in 1948 and was placed in power by the Soviet Stalinist regime. The propaganda began very quickly with Kim being credited as nearly single-handedly defeating the Japanese forces that had colonized the peninsula since the early 1900’s.

Every classroom in North Korea has a picture of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il hanging in it. In many elementary schools, there are special rooms set aside especially for the study of the historic feats of the Kim family, and their ingenious speeches. These rooms are built to higher standards and use better quality materials than the rest of the school is built with. Children are taught that their food, clothing, and nurture has come from the “grace” of the Kim family.

Even the textbooks which were used to teach the children about the Kim’s were made from much better paper than the books used for math and reading. They were bound much better as well. You can see in the picture the extreme difference in quality between the textbooks on the Kim’s versus the other textbooks. These textbooks may look seventy years old, but they are much, much more recent than that. The books themselves reflect the poverty of the nation.

From left to right: Book about Kim Il Sung, book about Kim Jong Il and an arithmetic book.

It is enjoyable to watch children learn time when they are young. Ten minutes may seem like an hour, and ten years may not seem too long to them. Time in North Korea is based upon Kim Il Sung. The year of his birth (1912) is considered year 1. Even the calendar that the children are taught (and that the country runs upon) is based upon Kim Il Sung.

There is an excellent book (which I will share more about in a later blog) by Kwang Chol-Hwan called, “The Aquariums of Pyong-yang.” Kwang grew up in North Korea and spent ten years in a concentration camp from the ages of 9-19. He describes the view of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il from a child, saying, “to my childish eyes and to those of all my friends, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were perfect beings, untarnished by any base human function. I was convinced, as we all were, that neither of them urinated or defecated. Who could imagine such things of gods?”

The entire education system is a propaganda arm of the state. Learning myths about a dead leader is considered far more important than learning reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The affinity for and belief in the miraculous strength and heroics of Kim Il Sung are even found in their songs. The picture below is from a songbook used in North Korean schools. We have translated it for you to read the lyrics. You can see that through song children are taught veneration for Kim Il Sung and hatred of their enemies.

Religion is taught in schools in North Korea. In fact, the entire education system revolves around religion. They are making their children worshippers of Kim. That is the main objective of a North Korean childhood education.

I have written in the last few blog posts about the Durihana school and its students. Now you can see why those who minister at the school have their work cut out for them. They need God’s grace and strength every day. They labor to bring children from darkness to light; to lead them out of the worship of false gods, into the worship of the One True God. Please continue to pray for them as they do this.