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Young North Korean defectors struggle in South Korean schools

By Elizabeth Shim
Young North Korean defectors struggle in South Korean schools
North Korean children at a computer class at the Mangyondae School Children's Palace in Pyongyang, North Korea. File Photo by How Hwee Young/EPA

Jan. 4 (UPI) -- A growing number of school-age North Korean defectors in the South say they have never attended school and are struggling to keep up with coursework in their new homeland.

Among the more than 31,000 defectors living in the South, about 3,000 refugees are of school age, but their lack of exposure to education and difficulties in subjects like math and English are keeping them behind, South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo reported Friday.

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The young North Koreans are also in a challenging and competitive educational environment, where students supplement mandatory schooling with extra classes at private institutes. Their parents, however, do not seek out expensive private education unlike their South Korean peers for economic reasons, according to the report.

A survey from 2016 focused on North Korean teens and preteens show nearly half of respondents said "keeping up" with classes in the South posed the greatest challenge in their lives, followed by making friends, adjusting to South Korean culture and maintaining good relations with teachers.

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Half of the 857 respondents also said they had never attended school in the North.

North Korean homeless children rose in number following the famine of the 1990s. Many families gave up their children and forced them to seek food and shelter on the streets, according to defector testimonies.

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The issue of defectors is a sensitive topic between North and South Korea.

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The two sides continue to meet, and on Friday the South's vice minister of unification Chun Hae-sung met with Kim Kwang Song of the North at the new liaison office in Kaesong, North Korea, Yonhap reported.

The two sides spoke for 20 minutes and agreed to work for the establishment of peace on the peninsula, according to the report.

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