• Kyodo

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Schools for pro-Pyongyang ethnic Korean residents of Japan are reviewing their education system to make it more open and flexible in their attempt to shed an image of being shackled to North Korea.

Portraits of the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and his son, current leader Kim Jong Il, are no longer mandatory in classrooms, and neither are the hoisting of North Korea’s flag and the singing of its national anthem, said officials of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun).

In addition, textbooks in the next school year will undergo dramatic revisions, marking the first such change in about a decade.

History education in junior high grades, for example, previously focused on movements led by the elder Kim against Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. But the revised textbooks will feature more descriptions of the history and culture of Korean residents of Japan.

Earlier textbooks touched little on South Korea. However, the revised texts mention the achievements of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung in promoting relations between the South and North.

The changes have come amid a sense of crisis over the declining number of enrollments at these schools.

Around 120 Korean schools are currently operating in Japan, down by about 30 from a decade ago. In addition to the nation’s declining birthrate, officials point to discrimination against the schools in terms of government subsidies as well as graduates’ eligibility for taking university entrance exams, which they said discourage prospective entrants.

Chongryun officials also said some Korean children resist entering traditional Korean schools due to public concerns about students of schools affiliated with the North.

On the other hand, there are strong calls within the Korean community — both pro-Pyongyang and pro-Seoul — for their children to receive ethnic education, the officials said.

In light of that, the North Korean leaders’ portraits were removed from classrooms at elementary and junior high schools last year, and it is now up to each school whether to hoist the North Korean flag or sing the national anthem.

Chongryun officials said there is a need to maintain an ethnic education to allow Koreans in Japan to express themselves, and that they are now working together with the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) to achieve that.

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