With winter break extended by two months to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, authorities in North Korea are forcing students to persist in their ideological education.
With the start of school postponed from Feb. 17 to April 20, a resident of Hyesan, Ryanggang provice told Radio Free Asia (RFA)’s Korean Service that no additional homework had been assigned to middle and high school students, with one exception.
“Instead, school authorities ordered the students to read and review the revolutionary exploits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il every day from their homes, while also taking time to brush up on general subjects,” the source told RFA.
According to the source, the children have widely welcomed the extended break.
“The kids run around saying ‘corona manse!’ (‘hooray for corona’),” the source said.
“[They] say they’re excited that their winter vacation has been extended twice because they don’t have to suffer toiling away at mandatory labor they would have to do if they were going to school.”
Their childlike exuberance, however, comes with risks.
“Parents are afraid that the State Security Department will get wind of how these kids really feel, so they are trying to maintain more careful control of their children,” the source told RFA.
“While it might be great for the kids that their start date has been postponed, their schools and parents are the ones that will be blamed if they are caught acting so recklessly when they are away from school.”
The source continued: “Authorities have even announced that if a group of three or more students are caught having birthday parties or watching [foreign] movies during the extended vacation period, they will be locked up in juvenile correctional camps as punishment.”
With 422,945 new coronavirus cases and 18,907 deaths reported in 197 countries and territories worldwide as of March 25, North Korea officially claims it has had zero infections.
The isolated state has taken a number of measures to prevent to spread of the disease, including closing off counties near the Chinese border and setting up a mass quarantine center in the capital Pyongyang.
North Korea’s Ministry of State Security has even gone so far as to threaten the use of weapons to control the country’s border area with China, following accusations Chinese border guards have been lax in performing their duties.
Despite these efforts, reports have surfaced that 180 North Korean soldiers died in January and February, while 3,700 were in quarantine as of March 9.
A North Hamgyong Province source told Daily NK on March 19 that 11 prisoners at Chongori Prison had died after suffering from respiratory issues, while others were suffering from high fevers.
“Everyone who found out about the deaths is wondering if the coronavirus was the culprit,” one source in the province said. “It’s not usual for the prison to disinfect inmate cells. Also, it’s suspicious that the authorities have ordered everyone to keep quiet about the deaths.”