The children of North Korea (3)

There is no internet in North Korea.

There is no internet (just repeating, in case that wasn’t clear).

Also, there are no cell phones. Kids have no cell phones (the 4-5 cell phones that I saw were, of course, owned by adults).

And there is almost no television. There’s only one TV channel, government-run, and it shows re-runs of boring stuff over and over (I saw the re-run of the visit by the NY Philharmonic several days in a row).

What is 0 + 0 + 0? Answer: a lot of time

No internet, no cell phones, no television equals no entertainment and no distractions. This means a lot of time for children to practice, practice, practice.

The School Children’s Palace is basically a big building where the Education Department runs after-school activities. Serious after-school activities: dance, tae kwon do, musical instruments, calligraphy, embroidery. I was told that the children come 4 to 5 days a week for 3 hours after school ends. The children choose (1) whether to go or not to go, and (2) what activity they want to do.

I don’t know about that. I mean that I don’t know if children really get to choose whether to go and what activity they want to do. It may be true in theory that the choice is theirs, but there are lots of ways to push children, and their parents, along a particular path. And by the way, this is not a political reflection. I have very clear memories of being 9 1/2 years old, in boarding school, and of being called to the office of my very stern headmistress. She wanted to tell me that I could switch learning levels if I wished, and move up from the one I’d been assigned to when I go there, which was one of the lower ones because I was coming from the countryside. She wanted me to move to the highest level overnight. I was terrified of making this big jump but I was also so scared of her that I agreed. There would be so much more work! And I had to study Latin, picking up after the rest of the class had already done the first 3 months of the curriculum! And I would have to make new friends!

I thought I’d never be able to make it.

And yet, it worked. Fear of failure, determination, and a word of encouragement from my French teacher motivated me enough that I ended the school year at the head of the grade in the highest learning level.

I think that this kind of psychology is put in practice in North Korea. I think that the brighter kids are given the honor of being Red Pioneers and this, in itself, is self-motivating. When they’re asked if they want to go after-school to the Children’s Palace, they’re happy.

This, and their determination to succeed, and the time available, can produce impressive technical results.