English education in the DPRK

English education in North Korea is on the increase.  On each of my visits in 2004 and 2005 I saw classes of all ages learning English–from elementary school students to older professionals.  (I wonder if Chinese tourists are taken to Chinese language classes?)

While visiting Pyongyang in 2005, I met a Canadian woman who was teaching English at the Grand Peoples’ Study House, and she seemed to be doing a good job teaching “conversational” English.  Here is a photo of one of her student’s notepads.

Additionally, she was paid in Euros; lived in the Central District (unlike most expats who are confined to the Yangdakdo Hotel and the Munsu diplomatic neighborhood); and she was recruited in China.

There can’t be too many Canadian women teaching English in Pyongyang, so I wonder if she is the same teacher featured in this Yohap story on the DPRK’s TEOFL exam scores:

Canadians seem to dominate the English profession in Pyongyang, another one was featured in this Yohap story on the DPRK’s TEOFL exam scores:

The average TOEFL score in the computer-based test by North Korean nationals has improved from 178 in the 1998-1999 period to 189 in 2003-2004 and 190 in 2004-2005.

The annual number of North Korean citizens taking the test, which stayed around 1,000 before June 2000, topped 4,000 in the 2003-2004 period and surpassed 6,000 in 2005-2006.

According to North Korean defectors in Seoul, Pyongyang has emphasized the importance of learning English since the 1970s.

“People are very eager to learn so there is a lot of improvement. Some of my students scored 500 on the (written) TOEFL exam,” Jake Buhler, a Canadian who taught English in North Korea for three months in 2004, was quoted by the radio station as saying.

English is now taught at all middle and high schools as well as universities in North Korea, according to Shin Eun-hi, a North Korean defector who taught English at the prestigious Kim Il Sung University and a foreign language college in Pyongyang. North Koreans previously avoided from learning English, calling it a language of U.S. imperialists.

However, she said only a small number of select people receive high-level English education. “The North Koreans who take the TOEFL are mostly students studying in third countries like China, Foreign Ministry officials and spies headed overseas,” another defector told Yonhap News Agency, requesting anonymity. “Such people are not inferior to South Koreans in their English skills.” 

The full article can be found here:
N. Koreans, S. Koreans have similar TOEFL average: report


4 Responses to “English education in the DPRK”

  1. KWS says:

    The ROK education people’s explanation as to why DPRK takers are registering higher scores is priceless:

    “the [high average score among North Koreans] might include scores by some South Korean students who mistakenly chose the country code for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.

    “It happens a lot because young South Koreans are still unfamiliar with the official name of their country, the Republic of Korea,” the official said, asking not to be named.”

    Aside from my concerns over selection bias, I for one am thrilled with North Koreans scoring comparably with South Korea and China. Goes to show how competitive North Korea may be if reform takes hold!

  2. There can’t be too many Canadian women teaching English in Pyongyang, so I wonder if she is the same teacher featured in this Yohap story on the DPRK’s TEOFL exam scores

    Doubt it — Jake is a dude’s name.

  3. Gag Halfrunt says:

    Jake Buhler is surely a male name, and the Yonhap story says that he was in North Korea only during 2004. But there may be a Canadian government programme supplying English teachers to the country; the British Council certainly recruits teachers for positions in North Korea.

  4. NKeconWatch says:

    To Brendan and Gag…

    Duh. Thanks. That is what I get for speed reading with a one-track-mind!