Average North Korean's Knowledge of the Rest of the World

Relevant fake news story from last year…

How Americans Live Today

The reaction this video got in America is exactly why the OP is worth asking and answering. Lots of people thought it was an actual news report from North Korea, and were indignant that an entire country could be so ignorant and easily duped. Do North Koreans know what irony is? :smiley:

As far as education in communist countries is concerned, one has to differentiate between academic fields which can be taught and researched “objectively” (at least to a certain degree) like mathematics, science, medicine, engineering etc. and subjects which are heavily influenced by ideology (i. e. history and other humanities).

Looking for instance at the experience of communist East Germany, it’s safe to say that the education system wasn’t bad at all, on the contrary. For instance, a chemistry textbook in East Germany would have had a preface which paid lip service to the socialist/communist state, but other than that, it presented the reader with solid, hard science.

The situation in North Korea, however, is weird by any standard and very difficult to assess. East Germans had more or less free access to electronic media from West Germany, so they had a pretty good idea about what was really going on the world. That’s definitely not the case in North Korea.

Information within NK is limited – which does not make them dumber.

The people in NK know as much of the rest of the world as they have information available to them.

However, even with all the information in the Western World many people believe that Earth is only 6000 years old or that the Earth is flat – never mind the moon, which brings us to the faked moon landing and the government controlling us via radio waves.

Jesus Christ.
I never said or implied that they were dumber.

What about the sport teams that go all over the world?

They can see stuff that they do not have & the rest of the world seems to have.

The numbers if cars, lights on after dark, etc…

I am given to understand that these sports teams come with North Korean minders, whose entire job is to:

A - prevent the athletes from defecting

B - prevent the athletes from seeing anything outside of their hotel room and the competition venue.

What do the local newspapers tell them about the outside world?

Yeah, I don’t understand how so many people are misreading the OP.

The first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club. The OP is asking: what information do they actually have available to them, and what gets blocked? Does anyone have specific examples (like what Green Bean shared) of specific things that an “average” person in NK would or would not know, that Americans would be surprised to find out? We have somewhat conflicting accounts on the presence of foreign technology, and we have some reasonable assumptions as to how it is becoming ever more difficult for the government to exclude information.

AK84’s link is interesting, as well. These two sentences are pretty suggestive:

I would be interested in learning about the content of their classes at various levels of education. Also, that link is from 2007. Have we heard anything about their educational system since? What is happening with all of these computer-literate young people that NK is training?

It may be true, in any case. Malnutrition is rampant in North Korea and can cause cognitive deficits.

Just heard about this on NPR today:

The Secret State of North Korea, which will be on Frontline on PBS tomorrow. Looks like there are a couple of other stories there that might interest people in this thread, as well.

I’d guess their sciences are fairly up to snuff. I suspect their Medicine leans more to the Homeopathic side than most Western medicine. I don’t think they have the pharmaceuticals available to them that we have unless they’re in the top of the Elite. I don’t know how much education NKs out in the “sticks” get. I wouldn’t put much faith in their History, Geography, or Economics.

Yeah, I don’t see where kumbaya all-encompassing cultural equality comes into play here. If a bunch of people had grown up in a house eating chips of lead paint off the walls throughout their childhoods, I don’t think we’d hesitate to acknowledge that they didn’t end up as mentally able as their neighbors who didn’t.

I’ve read accounts from North Korean doctors that state that part of their duties is to go out in the woods and fields and look for medical herbs from which to make medicines. The rest of what they’ve said makes me think their medicine is an odd mix of medieval, modern, and post-apocalyptic.

To be fair, willow bark does offer pain relief and fever fighting effects similar to aspirin.

It’s also a lot harsher on the stomach.

Sure, herbal medicine is legit, but it’s a lot harder to get consistent and reliable dosing.

The other thing is to distinguish between the “middle class” and the rest. One article I read suggested that the government had written off most of the north-east; being isolated from outside influences and temptations, they were less of a problem and the government ignored a lot of infrastructure development (roads, rail, hospitals, education, etc.) to save money. Even out in the more accessible countryside, the peasants would have less effort spent on their education than the middle elite in the towns. Thus, the children of doctors and professors and bureaucrats tend to get all the breaks, their parents use their influence to get them into the “right” schools, etc. This is the group that gets to see westerners and buys and sells technology on the black market. The rest, the government just keeps an eye out for troublemakers.

Another article mentioned the abortive attempts at reform and free markets. Suddenly some famers were getting very rich selling produce (theirs or stolen from the collective) on the semi-legit “grey” market. Along with that, some army people were getting very rich - after all, if you commanded a military base with large trucks, you had the only commercial transportation available to free marketeers, so for a price, the army supplied the market transport.

The problem KJI realized was that people with money did not need to rely on those above for power or influence, they could buy it. This is why they’ve resisted reforms for decades - free markets create alternate sources of influence that could destabilize the regime. Somewhere in the early 2000’s they cancelled the market changes, and re-issued their currency. They also limited the amount anyone could trade in, effectively destroying private wealthy entrepreneurs overnight.

However, during that time (and since) there’s been a lucrative market in foreign goods, smuggled from China. Cell phones were banned, then only available to the privileged few. One article mentioned that market openness brought a greater awareness of the outside to the middle classes. The crackdown has had a moderate effect, but the author mentioned that the level of cynicism, and surprisingly open cynicism expressed in the “right” sort of company, was much higher. He mentioned younger elite wearing blatantly modern brand name clothing, using forbidden cell phones (but talking from a moving bicycle to fool the radio locator types). Where they used to have a cowed and fooled middle class, they now have a cynical and passive but aware population.

It is, after all, difficult for the elite in science, as mentioned by previous posters, to learn the wide range of information available without being aware of the outside world. They didn’t develop most of the material science - metallurgy, machining, electronic controls, etc. - required to build rockets, atomic bombs and reactors, separation facilities, let alone trains and automobiles, without having a decent number of people free to research their field with information from across the world. The more complex their society becomes, the more such people are needed. The more such information moves onto the internet, the more their educational elite, security police, etc. need to move too.

anything in a socialist environment ( or police state ) is censored at what comes in the country and what goes out

alot of filtering and red tape …

they start the brain washing at when they are young … thinking thats the norm

always asking for papers and questioning at where are you going, from who to where

We’ve had regular posters on the SDMB who did not understand, and seemed to have a great deal of difficulty understanding, why the moon goes through phases. Ask twenty people you come across the same question and a shocking number of them won’t know.

You can cast anyone as stupid by finding the specific thing they’re stupid about.

A few years ago I was attending a cruise ship trade show in Miami, and North Korea actually had a booth there to promote their country, as a vacation destination, I suppose. It was a small drab booth, with one guy in a military uniform, and I never saw even one person talk to him.

One of my bigger regrets these days is that I didn’t talk with him. What a lost opportunity.

Thing that is hard to define is what is an average North Korean. My understanding is that the people there have widely disparate standards of living depending on if you’re from the City’s, the rural towns or the camps. These standards of living must play into the availability of education/knowledge.

Read “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West” by Shin Dong-hyuk for some remarkable insight into the life of a guy who escaped the camps and then spent months travelling through the country on an eventual path to the Chinese border and escape. I would envision the rural people he meets on this journey out to roughly represent the average.

Edit - here’s a hint for people not inclined to read the book. Everyone he meets everywhere is hungry - food is still a fought for resource. If this is the representative - which appears to be the case - I can’t imagine such people worried too much about learning things regarding Guyana or Iceland or Eritrea.