North Korea Today No. 360 August 2010

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
Mealworms are Vicious in Bangjin Collective Farm of Chungjin
Damages from Potato Worms are Spreading in Daeheungdan County
20% of the Prisoners at Jeongurrie Re-education Center Died of Fever
Students Burdened with Non-tax Levies for Mt. Baekdu Military First Power Plant
S. Hamgyong Province Dept. of Ed. Bans Collecting Extra Contribution, Parents React with Pessimism

[Investigative Report]
How to Increase School Attendance Rate in North Korea
Mealworms are Vicious in Bangjin Collective Farm of Chungjin
The Collective Farm in Bangjindong, Chungam District, Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province, suffered vast damages as mealworms proliferated. In the case of work unit No.4, mealworms have nibbled away all the leaves, so only the corn stalks were left in 5 Jungbos (1 Jungbo is 2.45 acres) of cornfield. A person from a farm pointed out the lack of agricultural pesticides for its reason. The Farming Management Commission could not provide agricultural pesticides this year, so each farm had to take care of agricultural pesticides on its own. The Collective Farm in Bangjindong had made its own herbicide by using sulfur, but it had almost no repellent effect. It tried to obtain pesticides belatedly but could not plan any particular measure due to the lack of fund. As a stopgap, the City Party began to mobilize the students from Bangjin elementary school and middle school in catching mealworms.

Damages from Potato Worms are Spreading in Daeheungdan County
The farms of Daeheungdan County in Ryanggang Province suffered grave damages as they could not prevent the potato worms in their potato fields. The County Party Committee had dispatched its members to the entire farms within its jurisdiction to assess the farming condition, and it was found that especially the new Labor District, Hongam, and Seodu District suffered serious damages. In the case of Hongam Farm, 7 Jungbos (1 Jungbo is 2.45 acres) were damaged in just one work unit, making it difficult to expect any harvest this year. The immediate cause of the damages was the inability to secure sufficient amount of pesticides this year. A pesticide called Pesticide Bullet requires a substance named hexacloran, and a smoke produced by burning the mixture of hexacloran and sawdust has a pesticide effect. If combined with nitric acid, however, hexacloran can be used to manufacture explosives. Due to the shortage of raw materials and electric power, a chemical plant that manufactures hexacloran was gradually producing lesser amount of hexacloran; as it was provided to the war industry first, the amount of pesticides to be provided to the farms was running short.

20% of Prisoners at Jeongurrie Re-education Center Died of Fever
It has been discovered that a contagious fever at the Jeongurrie Re-education Center killed many of the prisoners from September 2009 to February 2010. The fever killed approximately 20% of the prisoners. There was even a day when 35 people died. Although the Center has to deal with the outbreak of fever every year, the situation puzzles the Center because it has not experienced such a large number of deaths in a short period of time. The Center can accommodate up to 2,000 people, but it took in twice that amount of people. This made the prisoners debilitated and vulnerable to contagious diseases such as the fever. Most of the prisoners sent to the Center last year were not felons but simply sellers of prohibited goods, the so-called, “livelihood related offenders.” Therefore, the families of the prisoners suffer great unfairness and strongly criticize the Center, saying, “It is a death center where innocent people are sent and are subject to physical abuse and mental exhaustion. Then, they finally become dead bodies.”

At 11:00 on May 17, 100 prisoners of about 50 men and 50 women were released from the Center because their jail terms were up. This time, except for the 3 prisoners who died, all 97 were released. Immediately following the release, 80 other people were taken in into the Center. The maximum capacity for the Center is 2,000 people, but it imprisons 4,600 men and women. Although about 2-3 people die each day of malnutrition or some other reasons, it seems unlikely that the total number of prisoners will ever decrease because many new prisoners are constantly taken in. In June, of the prisoners who had two years left in their jail terms, 19 with serious diseases were released on parole on a disease bail. These sick prisoners mainly had tuberculosis, infectious hepatitis, abdominal dropsy, or other serious diseases that even prevented them from working. The Center released those who had possibly contagious diseases because the fever had killed so many people. The released prisoners were to return to the Center and finish their jail terms as soon as their treatments ended. However, they have such serious diseases that are difficult to treat that their release can basically be seen as a permanent one.

Students are Burdened with Non-tax Levies for Mt. Baekdu Military First Power Plant
In the construction efforts for the second power plant of the Mt. Baekdu Sungoon Chungnyon power plant, non-tax payments are levied with an aim of providing money for machinery components needed due to breakdown of machinery facilities that are causing delays in the construction. The brigades of North Hamgyong Province asked the provincial party several times for backup support such as machinery components. As a result, the provincial party gave instructions to its city and county parties. In case of the Hoeryong City, the city collected non-tax contributions for providing machine components not only from factories and public enterprises, but also from employees of elementary schools. The employees collected this contribution from students because they can’t afford it themselves. For example, each individual student in the Kangan-dong Elementary school is levied 300 to 400 NKW. Parents are burdened with continuous non-tax payments and, as a result, no longer send their children to school. As of July 2010, the attendance rate of students in schools in Hoeryong is no more than one third of enrolled students.

The brigades in South Pyongan Province are not much different from those in the North Hamgyong Province. The South Pyongan Brigades take charge of the construction of mine tunnels as part of the second power plant construction. However, the breakdown of a jackhammer has been delaying this construction. Similar to North Hamgyong Province, South Pyongan Province also levied non-tax payments on laborers, housewives, and students.

The special labor brigades suffer more severely because they have to conduct the entire task using their physical labors. Commanders shortened the shift time by forming four teams for drilling holes and three concrete-type teams. On July 4, 2010, five laborers happened to run away together in a day. The head of the brigades reported the escape to the South Pyongan province party and warned laborers that it would impose harsh punishments. It was a warning to prevent additional escapes. It is fortunate that the South Pyongan brigades do not suffer much from food shortage. Although the ratio of crushed maize and unglutinous rice is not one-to-one, each member of the brigades receives 550g of steamed rice which is a mix of crushed maize and unglutinous rice in the ratio of four-to-one. For dinner, one bottle of alcohol for every four laborers is distributed. Although this amount is too small considering the intensity of everyday labor, the situation in South Pyongan brigades is considered to be better compared to the food shortage problems prevalent nationwide.

Department of Education of South Hamgyong Province Says, “Do not Collect Extra Contribution,” but Parents React with Pessimism
On July 4, department of education of South Hamgyong Province had a meeting with educational officials of City or County Parties about students’ low attendance rate. Although they understand that the main reason for the low attendance is the food shortage issue, collecting extra contribution could be another factor that parents gave up sending their children to school. An official of Provincial Department of Education handed down a strict order that bans collecting extra contribution by saying, “Do not collect non-tax contribution any more. There should not be any exception for this rule. Schools and teachers imposing social projects on students should be viewed as unfit to educate people.” The official requested them to put their best efforts to increase students’ attendance by saying, “Increasing the attendance rate is the foundation to develop our future.” As of July, it was observed that elementary and middle school students’ attendance rate is lower than 30% in Hamheung city. Most absentees help their parents’ trades or have a part time job such as luggage delivery service using their bicycle.

However, parents in Hamheung City show pessimistic reactions toward the recent ban of collecting extra contribution of the educational department. An official of the City Party said, “The fact that school may not follow this order could be the issue. Above all, we should not point fingers at school or individual teacher as the real reason for the problem.” He asserted, “This ban on extra contribution means that school should not collect extra stuff for its own operation. It does not mean eradicating extra contributions completely.” For instance, there is no choice but to collect extra contributions to support workers at the construction field such as Heecheon Power Plant in Jagang Province or the historic battle field at Mt. Baekdu. Each district has responsibility for supporting food for the workers of Special Labor Brigade who are dispatched from the district, but local government does not have enough budgets to support them, so they have to collect extra contributions from companies, enterprises, neighborhood units, and schools. For Hamheung City’s case, it is not possible to stop collecting extra contribution from schools because the city has lots of needs for its own projects as well as continuous requests from the Central Government.

[Investigative Report]
How to Increase School Attendance Rate in North Korea
As the food shortage continues, it is not a new phenomenon that school attendance rate is low, and many students simply drop out of school. In July, middle schools in Hamheung City showed less than 50% of attendance rate. The root cause of the low attendance rate is the food shortage, but the biggest impact comes from the non-tax burdens imposed on students.

Poor students who cannot afford eating properly are avoiding coming to school because they cannot afford the non-tax duties the school imposes on every student. The educational authorities know this grave situation; they have made statements that schools should not collect non-tax duties, criticizing schools and teachers collecting money from students as disqualified educators. However, no matter how the authorities criticize it, collecting non-tax duties from students never stops in reality.

The parents’ enthusiasm for education dwindles as they suffer from chronic hunger. For them, all kinds of assignments of non-tax duties are huge burdens. Teachers find this situation very hard as well. When the attendance rate drops, teachers face criticism and their qualifications are questioned. Therefore, they have to visit students’ homes and talk to the parents. The parents do not reserve themselves and argue with the teachers, asking how they could send their children to school when they cannot even eat. Even for the students who manage to come to school, it is practically impossible to run a class properly because the hungry students tend to be sitting languidly and cannot focus on anything.

Education is not a personal matter but a duty of the society to foster the next generation as well as a basic function the nation to fulfill. What should be done to increase the school attendance rate and promote enabling environment for education in North Korea when it is undergoing such a hard economic situation?

First, the non-tax duties should be eliminated. They are the biggest reason of the low school attendance. If it is inevitable to collect duties from students to continue many national projects, such projects should be stopped temporarily or postponed according to priorities. A drastic determination is required to focus on the most important and urgent projects and drop the rest.

Second, if collecting duties are still needed, collect certain amount of educational fee instead of collecting all kinds of items for so many different causes. In this way, schools can raise revenue, and parents can be relieved from the burdensome non-tax duties. When the national plans are made for various national projects, the educational units should be exempted from non-tax duties.

Third, the suggested educational fee should be exempted for those living below poverty line. Such a measure is needed to promote equality in education. Even in the current financial trouble, educational subsidies for poor students should be implemented as the first step to reinstate free education.

Lastly, the national budget for education should be secured. If the state puts priority in education and supports it despite its hard economic situation, all the regions will follow. Allocating national budget in an appropriate manner shows its priorities in national policies. When people see their nation giving high priorities to education even in the hardship, they can have hope and be encouraged for a better life.

Education symbolizes the hope for the future. Despite all the hardships, education should be the first place to sprout the hope for the next generation. Making such effort in education is making the first step for the next century.