Class report from North Korea
Chris Hunter talks about a lesson without a plan and life with limited technology in this fascinating class report from North Korea.
Summary of education / teaching career to date: Chris began teaching in Slovakia in 1995 and has since taught in Qatar, the UAE, the UK, Libya and now in the DPRK (North Korea). His is the local project manager of three in-country trainers with the Peacekeeping English Project (PEP). Chris is responsible for delivering British Studies to university students and lecturers in two of the project’s three partner universities, Kim Il Sung University and Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies.
What keeps you motivated? The thought that I’m in a position to reach out to students and teachers that very few others have the chance to reach out to.
Best teaching moment? I don’t want to highlight one event, but slowly getting a silent, uncommunicative class to begin to open up, even a little, and to interact on a more personal basis has been my best experience here. Interaction with the local people is limited so it’s been of special importance to me.
Worst teaching moment? There are sometimes infrastructure problems here that I wasn’t aware of when I first arrived, and this can make lesson planning quite difficult. When I got to the university for one of my earlier sessions with a carefully planned lesson and materials all on a memory stick, I was told the electricity was off and there was no chance of printing my lesson out. I had no choice but to go into the class with my memory stick, show it to the students and say, “Well here’s your lesson! What would you like to talk about for the next 90 minutes?” We had a good time in the end but walking in there wasn’t very comfortable.
The biggest challenge you face? That open discussion of so many things is not an option in this environment, and it takes time and patience to get students to ask any penetrating questions about the teaching materials (as opposed to the grammar, etc.).
The issue of materials is also quite interesting. If we use general English books they tend to be quite Eurocentric and the materials are irrelevant to local life. Local people and universities have no access to the internet. There is an interest in the outside world and people do know about current events from their local news but information is very restricted and politically-focused, as one would expect.
What I have done this year is try to be more inventive than much of the available British Studies material allows and give a realistic picture of Britain, its demographic patterns, attitudes to minorities, how the media works and the impact of new media delivery via the internet and mobile phones. Mobiles have only just been introduced here for local people - I still get mine taken off me at the airport as I come in!
What have you learned from your students? That even in remote, cut-off places without a pool of native speakers or access to English language media it is possible to have a very high standard of English indeed and a high level of knowledge about the UK, if a little fossilized.
What’s next? What to do, where to go after this? I really don’t know. Somewhere with broadband I guess.
Top tip for other teachers? If you’re coming to North Korea come with an open mind and lots of warm underwear; it’s quite chilly in the winter!
This class report was produced in collaboration with the Guardian Weekly.