Education in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is strictly controlled by the government. Children go through one year of kindergarten, four years of primary education, six years of secondary education, and then on to universities. The most prestigious university in the DPRK is Kim Il-sung University. Other notable universities include Kim Chaek University, which focuses on computer science, Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, which trains working level diplomats and trade officials, and Kim Hyong Jik University, which trains teachers.
The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, located just outside of Pyongyang city, started construction in 2001 and is largely funded by Korean and American Evangelical church groups. Its first class was scheduled to begin in 2003, although it has been delayed. Most recent announcements indicate that it might open in fall of 2010.
Formal education has played a central role in the social and cultural development of both traditional Korea and contemporary North Korea. During the Joseon Dynasty, the royal court established a system of schools that taught Confucian subjects in the provinces as well as in four central secondary schools in the capital. There was no state-supported system of primary education. During the fifteenth century, state-supported schools declined in quality and were supplanted in importance by private academies, the seowon, centers of a Neo-Confucian revival in the sixteenth century. Higher education was provided by the Seonggyungwan, the Confucian national university, in Seoul. Its enrollment was limited to 200 students who had passed the lower civil service examinations and were preparing for the highest examinations.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed major educational changes. The seowon were abolished by the central government. Christian missionaries established modern schools that taught Western curricula. Among them was the first school for women, Ehwa Woman's University, established by American Methodist missionaries as a primary school in Seoul in 1886. During the last years of the dynasty, as many as 3,000 private schools that taught modern subjects to both sexes were founded by missionaries and others. Most of these schools were concentrated in the northern part of the country. After Japan annexed Korea in 1910, the colonial regime established an educational system with two goals: to give Koreans a minimal education designed to train them for subordinate roles in a modern economy and make them loyal subjects of the emperor; and to provide a higher quality education for Japanese expatriates who had settled in large numbers on the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese invested more resources in the latter, and opportunities for Koreans were severely limited. A state university modeled on Tokyo Imperial University was established in Seoul in 1923, but the number of Koreans allowed to study there never exceeded 40 percent of its enrollment; the rest of its students were Japanese. Private universities, including those established by missionaries such as Sungsil College in P'yongyang and Chosun Christian College in Seoul, provided other opportunities for Koreans desiring higher education.
In the early 1990s, the compulsory primary and secondary education system was divided into one year of kindergarten, four years of primary school (people's school) for ages six to nine, and six years of senior middle school (secondary school) for ages ten to fifteen. There are two years of kindergarten, for children aged four to six; only the second year (upper level kindergarten) is compulsory.
In the mid-1980s, there were 9,530 primary and secondary schools. After graduating from people's school, students enter either a regular secondary school or a special secondary school that concentrates on music, art, or foreign languages. These schools teach both their specialties and general subjects. The Mangyngdae Revolutionary Institute is an important special school.
In the early 1990s, graduation from the compulsory education system occurred at age sixteen. Eberstadt and Banister report that according to North Korean statistics released in the late 1980s, primary schools enrolled 1.49 million children in 1987; senior middle schools enrolled 2.66 million that same year. A comparison with the total number of children and youths in these age brackets shows that 96 percent of the age cohort is enrolled in the primary and secondary educational system.
School curricula in the early 1990s are balanced between academic and political subject matter. According to South Korean scholar Park Youngsoon, subjects such as Korean language, mathematics, physical education, drawing, and music constitute the bulk of instruction in people's schools; more than 8 percent of instruction is devoted to the "Great Kim Il Sung" and "Communist Morality." In senior middle schools, politically oriented subjects, including the "Great Kim Il Sung" and "Communist Morality" as well as "Communist Party Policy," comprise only 5.8 percent of instruction.