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North Korea Promises Improvements to Its Educational System

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s Parliament convened on Tuesday for a rare second session in a single year, amid speculation among outside analysts that the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, might use the meeting to reshuffle his government and discuss economic reforms.

韩国首尔——本周二,朝鲜的国会机构在一年内罕有地举行了第二次会议。外界分析人士纷纷猜测,朝鲜领导人金正恩(Kim Jong-un)可能会利用这次会议改组政府,并讨论经济改革议题。

But the one-day session ended instead with an announcement of changes to the isolated country’s educational system — changes that analysts saw as potentially popular with the North Korean people. The rubber-stamp legislature extended compulsory education to 12 years from 11, promised more classrooms and said that teachers would be given priority in the distribution of food and fuel rations, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

不过,为期一日的会议闭幕时,没有宣布与上述猜测相呼应的政策,而是宣布对这个封闭国家的教育系统进行整改——分析人士认为,这些整改措施可能会受到朝鲜民众的欢迎。根据朝鲜官方新闻机构朝鲜中央通讯社(Korean Central News Agency)的消息,有名无实的朝鲜立法机构把义务教育的年限从11年延长到了12年,承诺提供更多的教室,还承诺教师将享有优先获得食品和燃料配给的权利。


The Supreme People’s Assembly also pledged to end the “unruly mobilization of students” for activities outside school. The official report did not elaborate on this; however, since famine struck North Korea in the mid-1990s, mobilizing students to gather firewood and animal waste for fertilizer has become a common practice in the country’s schools, and a major parental grievance.

朝鲜最高人民会议(Supreme People’s Assembly)还承诺,要停止为校外活动进行“不合规矩的学生动员”。官方报道没有详细解释这一承诺;不过,自从上世纪90年代中的饥荒时期以来,动员学生收集木柴和用作肥料的动物粪便就成了朝鲜学校的习惯做法,也成了引发学生家长不满的主要原因。

Analysts in South Korea said that in putting education at the center of the first policy changes made public under his rule, Mr. Kim was trying to reinforce the public’s faith in his family’s dynastic regime.


“This could prove popular among North Korean people, if it’s implemented,” said Chang Yong-seok of the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

“如果得到实施的话,这些整改措施可能会受到朝鲜民众的欢迎,” 首尔大学和平和统一研究中心(Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University)的朝鲜问题专家张永石(Chang Yong-seok)说。

Since taking over after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in December, Kim Jong-un has sought to project an image as a youthful leader who is accessible to his people, and particularly as one who cares for the country’s children. He dedicated one of his first public speeches to North Korean children, has ordered improvements to amusement parks and was pictured in the state media holding kindergartners on his lap.

金正恩的父亲金正日(Kim Jong-il)于去年12月,金正恩随后继任。上任以来,他力图把自己打扮成一个平易近人、尤其对本国儿童关怀备至的年轻领导人。他把上任之初的一次公开演说献给了朝鲜儿童,下令改善游乐园的设施。官方媒体公布的照片显示,他抱着幼儿园的小朋友,让他们坐在自己的膝上。

The parliamentary session in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, was watched closely for indications of policy shifts under Mr. Kim. Outside analysts had speculated that he might use the session to discuss economic reforms, like giving more incentives to farms and factories to increase productivity, which various South Korean news outlets have reported as being under consideration. But the official report Tuesday made no mention of such changes.


“Perhaps North Korea believed that its economic programs were still in too early a stage of development, and too experimental, to be made public,” Mr. Chang said. “Instead, Kim Jong-un presented what could be a more ambitious, longer-term plan of normalizing his country’s educational system.”


The Assembly voted to extend state-sponsored free schooling to 12 years, for all children from ages 5 to 17. Previously, such schooling ended at 16. The legislature said the change was to meet the requirements of “the age of knowledge-based economy and the trend of the world,” a term that has been favored under Mr. Kim.


The report, which stressed education in computer technology and foreign languages, said the legislature promised to build more classrooms and dormitories and to ensure that school buses run on time. It did not say how the North would finance the first major overhaul of its educational system in four decades.


The legislature said it would crack down on “mobilizing students for purposes other than state mobilization.” That, in effect, meant that the country’s use of young students for a mass gymnastics festival — a key feature of its national propaganda — would continue, analysts said. Thousands of children are trained every year for the show, which also serves as a source of foreign currency from tourists.


“Kim Jong-un is trying to rebuild a loyalty in his socialist system by emphasizing free compulsory education,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “One more year of education also means producing a better work force for the regime.”

“通过强调免费义务教育,金正恩试图重建民众对社会主义体系的忠诚,”位于首尔的北韩问题研究所教授杨武仁(Yang Moo-jin)说,“多提供一年免费义务教育,还意味着为该政权培养更好的劳动力。”
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