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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Universities across North Korea have opened over 80 departments since April, the country’s ruling party daily reported on Tuesday, offering a range of new courses specializing in, among other subjects, information security, robotics, and engineering.
According to the Rodong Sinmun in a front-page article entitled “Education System is Being Completed,” 37 universities established a total of 85 departments and implemented corresponding courses.
Most notable among the new departments opened are those focused on information security, engineering of nano-materials, and robotics.
Pyongyang University of Mechanical Engineering and Hamhung University of Pharmacology were also reported to have established medical equipment departments.
The developments appear to be in-line with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech in January, in which he ordered that educational methods be “innovated in conformity with the world trend of developing education and pedagogical requirements.”
North Korea, Kim said, needs to foster “talented personnel who will shoulder socio-economic development” in the future.
Samjiyon University of Technology, which the Rodong Sinmun in August reported had been renamed the Samjiyon University of Agriculture, was established to “foster technical personnel in various fields who are necessary for the area.”
The party daily also last month reported that the Pyongyang University of Railways had recently been converted to the Pyongyang University of Transport, and that the Pyongyang University of Medical Technology had become the Pyongyang University of Medicine.
“Many advances have been made in working to the perfection of the educational system in recent years,” the newspaper continued, adding that the collegiate universities were established according to sector and region a few years ago.
The Rodong Sinmun on Tuesday said Pyongyang University Transport has established new railway and automobile transportation engineering departments as well as transportation services.
North Korea will also set up “11 senior secondary schools of information and technology” in each province, the Rodong reported, suggesting these schools will have specialized IT curriculums.
In addition, the country is planning to designate one school in each city and district as a technical senior secondary school.
“This is greatly significant in developing the local economy and the nurturing human resources needed for various sectors,” the party daily said.
In December 2016, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the country had opened more than 100 technical senior secondary schools across the country.
Vocational schools were established in major industrial and agricultural areas, as well as fishing industry hubs, with teaching intended to reflect regional economic and geographical conditions.
The schools intend to provide courses that teach skills such as metalwork, coal, electricity, fishery, agriculture, stock-breeding, fruit growing, and chemistry.
The new developments were showcased at this week’s 14th National Conference of Teachers, held on Tuesday in Pyongyang.
The party daily on Tuesday reported the conference, the first of its kind since September 2014, would “serve as a groundbreaking milestone in further expediting the construction of a powerful socialist country by rapidly developing the country’s educational work.”
North Korea, it continued, should make “all the people well versed in science and technology by bringing about an educational revolution in order to successfully step up the construction of a powerful socialist country.”
Improvement in education is needed, it said, to “subdue and smash the despicable maneuvers of enemies, holding aloft the banner of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.”
The Rodong Sinmun also reported the “standard of tele-education has stepped up to a higher level.”
Remote education programs with image recognition technology and learning support programs for tablet PC users have been developed and introduced to 20 tele-education colleges and departments in the technology field, the report said.
Training centers were also created to ensure work placements for students majoring in subjects like metal engineering at 20 industrial units, it added, including at the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex, Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex, and Pyongyang Kim Jong Suk Silk Mill.
“The fact that the number of students receiving remote education has increased by thousands this year compared to last year shows the development of tele-education,” the Rodong Sinmun said.
Kim Chaek University of Technology began to operate a tele-education college in 2010, but KCNA in October 2016 reported that online colleges had been set up at six universities including the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, the Pyongyang University of Printing, and Nampho University of Fisheries.
The North unveiled new reforms to its school system and extended compulsory schooling from 11 to 12 years at the 6th Session of the 12th DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) in September 2012.
Following a phased roll-out of the policy, the country later fully implemented the new 12-year compulsory education system in April 2017.
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA