September 22, 2018

Is there online learning in North Korea?

An online lecture from a North Korean university

Kang, T-J. (2018) Online learning in North Korea The Diplomat, May 25

You may have noticed that North Korea has been in the news quite a bit recently, so the question arose in my mind, is there online learning in North Korea?

No, your intrepid reporter did not hop on a plane to Pyongyang and interview the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un. No need: this article from the Diplomat answered the question quite nicely.

Yes, North Korea has (fairly recently) started delivering streamed lectures at a distance through some of its more prestigious universities, such as Kim Il-sung University. This prestigious university recently awarded degrees to those who finished their program via a distance learning course for the first time. You can even watch a promotional video from a North Korean web site. (It helps if you speak Korean, which I don’t, and it took over 10 minutes to download the 48 second video.) Students can watch the programs on laptops, tablets or mobile phones.

But how many have mobile phones? The Diplomat reports that in 2015 the number of mobile phone subscribers in North Korea reached 3.24 million, (about 13%) and that about 60 percent of the population in Pyongyang, the capital, between 20 and 50 years old are using mobile phones. (If you deduct for government exaggeration and add for technology development since 2015, these figures are probably a reasonable estimate).

However, access to the Internet internationally is prohibited to students.

So while online learning may be allowing for more flexibility in delivery, it is not necessarily widening access. You still have to be admitted to a prestigious university to get the online courses.

Comment

North Korea appears to be in roughly the same position as China in the mid-1980s, when China created the Chinese Central Television and Radio University, which is now well established and has millions of students. Cuba also has online distance education, but students are not permitted to access the Internet internationally.

However, as in China in the 1980s, North Korea is using largely streamed or broadcast lectures, which do not exploit fully the power of the Internet and in particular put a heavy emphasis on information transmission at the expense of skills development and knowledge management – but then that’s not so different from the practice of many online courses in Canada and the USA.

The lesson clearly is that it is not enough just to use the technology; you also need to change the teaching method to get the full benefits of online learning. But at least North Korea is moving into online learning.

If anyone has more information about online learning in North Korea, please share!