December 05, 2023

How the ROK’s education obsession puts North Korean defectors at a disadvantage

DPRK schooling standards lag far behind South Korea, and money can be a major obstacle to academic success

One similarity between North and South Korea is that both take formal education extremely seriously. A college education at a prestigious institution is what most children on the peninsula work toward, and North Korean defectors are no exception.

Indeed, when you talk to these refugees, college-level education is a recurring topic. Some even decided to escape from the DPRK because they wanted a better education for their kids. This is especially true for families with low status in North Korea’s “songbun” caste system, who are discriminated against and for whom most universities are off-limits.