Preschool with a side of Atheism—North Korea intensifies early brainwashing efforts

October 23, 2020 by Lindy Lowry in Asia

North Korea’s indoctrination of its children—ensuring the worship of the ruling Kim family—is one of the first steps the state takes to control 25.7 million people living in the country that has been No. 1 on Open Doors’ World Watch list for the last 19 years. Now, recent changes are tightening even further the country’s grip on its youngest citizens.

Recently, Kim Yo Jong, sister to Kim Jong Un, reportedly ordered changes to what the country calls its “Greatness Education” curriculum that’s taught at preschools nationwide.

Using “Greatness Education,” North Korea aims to instill loyalty and trust in its country’s leadership. According to a source in North Hamgyong Province earlier, preschoolers aged five and six used to spend only 30 minutes a day learning about the childhoods of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Now, in the updated curriculum, each day children will spend a total of 90 minutes on “Greatness Education.” One hour each day is devoted to learning about the childhoods of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, followed by another 30 minutes in which children learn “revolutionary” music from the leaders’ childhoods.

“What is being taught in Greatness Education has changed somewhat,” the source said. “The amount of time spent on the Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un]’s childhood is now twice that spent on the Suryong [Kim Il Sung] and the General [Kim Jong Il]’s childhoods.”

According to the source, the updated curriculum tells preschoolers that when Kim Jong Un was just five years old, he was a bright child who “rode a yacht, did target practice, and liked to read.”

Timothy Cho, a refugee living in Europe, remembers growing up in North Korea and the “brainwashing” he and all young children went through. “Even in nursery school, we had to bow to the pictures of the first leaders of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung and his son, Kim Jong-Il,” he says.

As a child, he heard stories of Kim II-Sung having magic powers. “I learned that Kim Il-Sung was able to catch a double rainbow with one hand because of his “majestic powers.”

Everything in North Korea revolves around the Kim family, Timothy shares. “North Korean children are brainwashed so that they will honor the leader of their day. In preschool, the teachers prayed to the leaders at lunchtime. We had to give thanks to the dictators for our “daily bread,” Now, I realize they stole this from the Lord’s Prayer. There’s even a (Santa Claus-inspired) story of Kim Il-Sung bringing gifts if you follow him.”

Inside worries

In North Korea, preschoolers are typically in class for three hours from 9 am to 12 pm that consist of physical education, play and studying the Korean alphabet. Preschool teachers, however, are reportedly worried about how they will spend the extra time set aside for Greatness Education.

“The kids are almost at the point of becoming elementary school students, so parents tend to ask teachers to focus on studying the alphabet. The increase in time spent on the leaders, however, leaves less time for alphabet study, so parents will be unhappy,” the source said, based on confidentialc comments made by some preschool teachers.

Preschool administrators are concerned they will have to ask the parents of preschoolers to pitch in financially to help conduct maintenance on preschool buildings and fix classrooms devoted to learning about “revolutionary activities.” While the central government sent the new curriculum directly to preschools, there are also new costs for ““sprucing up” classrooms for Greatness Education, the source told Daily NK. “Many parents are consequently wondering to themselves whether it might be better just to teach their kids at home.”

This kind of indoctrination is the reason why North Korean parents can’t share their Christian faith with their children. Young children may unknowingly (or intentionally) expose their family’s faith to authorities. Many refugees have shared stories with Open Doors of finding a Bible hidden in their parents’ home and wondering if they should turn in their own parents to the authorities.

North Korean refugee Kim Sang-Hwa* shares how shocked she was to find her parents’ Bible when she was 12—and how she considered reporting her parents.

“I knew my discovery could cost me my life,” she says. “I was afraid to touch the Bible, but I couldn’t just leave it there. I closed my eyes, picked up the book and put it back. I weighed my options. Should I tell my teacher? Should I visit the local security official? For fifteen days, I couldn’t think about anything else. I knew it was my duty to report this illegal book. But it was my family which was involved. And I also had all these questions: ‘Who is this God? Or ‘what’?’”

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Instilling Hatred of Christians

In addition to curriculum that promotes Kim loyalty, you children are also taught to fear Christianity.

“I also believed that Christianity was evil and that the cross was a symbol of the devil,” Timothy says. “Today, North Korean children learn about and bow to current ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-Un, too.

The North Korean state wants their people to love only the Kim family and to hate the ‘American imperialists’ and ‘South Korean puppets.’ To increase the hate for North Korea’s enemies—which are the Americans (and in their view, all Americans are Christians)—the government of North Korea has produced negative propaganda. Films, musicals, paintings and cartoons portray Americans and Christians in a bad light. They ‘show’ how the enemy has exploited and killed North Koreans.”

For example, this story from a North Korean textbook:

“A boy lived with his mother in a village in Korea. One day, he was carrying firewood from a mountain. He was passing by a missionary man’s apple orchard. All of a sudden, a strong wind blew through the orchard and apples dropped on the ground. The boy picked up an apple, and the missionary man saw it. He yelled at the boy and called him a robber. As punishment, the man also tied the young boy up and used chemical acid on the boy’s forehead to burn in the word ‘robber.’ The boy died because of the acid.”

“Growing up, this story always scared me when I was younger. They used this children’s lesson to instill hatred of foreign missionaries. It stressed the state’s message: ‘Don’t trust the imperialists; assume these enemies always aim to conquer our country.’”

Through stories like these and other untruthful lessons, the cross became an evil image to children in North Korea.

The truth always comes out

North Korean children are learning many lies. For example, currently, there are between 30,000 and 50,000 monuments throughout North Korea honoring the Kim family. Some are big; some are small. And the children think it’s their duty and honor to keep these monuments clean.

However, the more total the lie, the more total the rejection will be of the liar when the lie is exposed, Timothy says. “The truth can’t be buried forever, and North Korea has tried for so long to conceal it. I firmly believe North Korea will change.”

Today’s North Korean children are able to discover other beliefs and ways of life through escapees’ disseminated information, smuggled USB drives and foreign radio broadcasts in the Korean language. More parents are coming to faith and, when the children are old enough, they will hear about the Bible and the gospel.

“I truly believe that if believers throughout the world continue to pray with North Korean believers, one day all North Korean children will learn the truth about God and Christianity,” Timothy says. “One day, they will turn to the cross.

Praying with North Korean Believers

  • Pray that God would place a longing in North Koreans to question the “truth” they’ve learned and to see the Truth of the gospel.
  • Ask God to instill in North Korean Christian parents a commitment to one day share their faith with their children.
  • Pray that God would confuse the thoughts of creators and producers of false films, writings and other media–and that they would find Christ in their creative process.
  • Intercede for North Korea’s children, asking Jesus to protect their hearts and minds–that He would drown out the negative messages.
  • Pray for a “Damascus Road” experience and the salvation of North Korea’s leaders.
  • Remember our North Korean brothers and sisters, praying for them to stand strong in the midst of persecution.
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