3 minute read

North Korea


The North Korean educational system has maintained its own unique structures as well as the typical socialist structures of an educational system. The "Juche Doctrine" has been institutionalized in the ideology and aims of the North Korean educational system. This doctrine requires an educational system involving human resource development along with a political consciousness that follows the Party's course of action.

The educational system has been changed to develop a socialistic, efficiency-oriented school system. The current school system is evaluated on the basis of how well it reflects the principles of a socialistic school system and concerns for efficiency. Some key features include:

  1. Beginning schooling at an earlier age—nursery and kindergarten;
  2. Providing 11 years of free, compulsory education for every child from the ages of 5 to 15;
  3. Maintaining a dual-structured school system or a general type of schooling for the masses and selective elite schools and special purpose schools for the privileged class;
  4. No recognition of private schools; and
  5. Tight administrative control of schools by the state administrative system.

The educational system has also adopted socialistic pedagogical principles. The thesis of socialist education emphasizes the following principles: 1) Political education in the "Juche Doctrine." This political education focuses on the indoctrinating of the Kim Il-Sung ideology and strategies for the revolution; 2) Collectivistic activities as a major form of the teaching-learning process. The thesis of socialist education puts higher priority on various kinds of collective activities to facilitate the internalization of socialistic collective norms and culture; and 3) Integration of theory into practice. The thesis emphasizes that theory has to be validated in the process of practice, so the teaching-learning process aims to develop "Praxis."

General Assessment: Judging from the information garnered from the very limited number of officially released documents and from interviews with the deserters and refugees from North Korea, we can make some conjectures as to the operating strategies of its educational system and some limitations as to its outcomes.

The educational system seems to be so highly coupled with the political system that it becomes very much subordinated to the political system. The educational system is designed to meet the political requirements. It provides an effective mechanism for social integration and for internalizing the information in the "Juche Doctrine." The political function of the educational system seems to be of top priority.

Uniformity in formal education seems to be the most common characteristic in the operation of the educational system. The political-administrative control of education appears to prefer the uniformity of formal education to diversity in education. This top-down control seems to cause rigidity in managing educational institutes. Uniformity and rigidity also seem to inevitably reduce the autonomy and accountability of schools. Thus, in respect to educational outcomes the supporting mentality for cultivating creativity can hardly be expected.

The general operational pattern of the educational system seems to be inefficient in human resource development. Too much emphasis on political education takes a large amount of time from developing the educational qualities of knowing and morality. Furthermore, the stifling of individuality in the educational program and rigidity in its management further limit the educational function of the educational system.


Chosun Labor Party. The Thesis of Socialist Education. Chosun Labor Press, 1977.

Educational Books Press Editors. Socialist Education. Dong Press, 1975.

Han Man-Kil. A Study of the Education in North Korea in the Unified Age. Seoul: Educational Science Press, 1997.

Kang Kun-Jo. The History of Chosun Education. Vol. 4. Pyongyang: Educational Science Press, 1991.

Kim Hyong-Chan. History of Education Development in North Korea. Seoul: Han Baek Co., 1988.

——. The Juche Eeducation Ideology of North Korea. Seoul: Han Baek Co., 1990.

Kim Il-Sung. About Socialist Education. Chosun Labor Party Press, 1973.

——. "Towards the Development of Preschool Education." 1976. In Kim Il-Sung's Writings 31. Chosun Labor Press, 1986.

Kim Jung-Il. Some Problems Viewed from Juche Ideology Culture. Chosun Labor Party Press, 1987.

——. About Juche Ideology. Chosun Labor Party Press, 1991.

The Law of National Congress's Council. "About the Whole Enforcement of Compulsory Technical Education." Technical Education. Pyongyang, 1966.

Li Yong-Bok. The Explanation of the Party's Policy for Education. Chosun Labor Party Press, 1985.

——. Education in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1992.

Ministry of Education. "Facts of North Korea." In Reference Materials for Supervision No. 104. 1994.

Ministry of Unification. Understanding North Korea. 1998.

——. Easy References to Know about North Korea, 1998.

Son Kye-Rim. "The Developing Process of North Korean Education and Contemporary Reform. Vol. 1." In Education Development 97. KEDI, 1995.

——. "The Developing Process of North Korean Education and Contemporary Reform. Vol. 2." In Education Development 98. KEDI, 1995.

—Chong Jae Lee

Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceNorth Korea - History Background, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education, Higher Education