Smartcard login for distance education

The distance education system run by Kim Il Sung University was the subject of a short report on Korean Central Television on Tuesday evening and we got to see a little of it in action.

Distance education has been pushed in North Korea since long before Covid and many major universities offer remote online learning through the national intranet. Kim Il Sung University, which is the nation’s most prestigious university, opened its Faculty of Distance Education in 2015.

A page on the university website says “Students who are enrolled in distance learning course can study at any place connected to the national network and at any time with electronic card and electronic student ID only,” and the TV report showed that system.

A smartcard used for distance learning login, shown on Korean Central Television on June 29, 2021. (Image: KCTV)

A user at the university placed a smartcard that said “Ryongnamsan, Distance Education Management System” (룡남산, 원격교육운영체계) on a card reader and then a conventional login page was shown on an attached tablet.

Kim Il Sung University’s distance learning system, shown on Korean Central Television on June 29, 2021. (Image: KCTV)

So it appears access to the Ryongnamsan distance education system is controlled by both a username and password and a physical card, making it a two-factor authentication system. That’s a higher level of security than I would have expected for such a service on a closed, national network.

The Ryongnamsan system is a little older than the faculty. It was first mentioned by North Korean state media in November 2013 as a first-prize winner in that year’s National Programming Contest.

The report described how the Faculty of Distance Education is continuing its efforts to assisting students with improved distance learning experiences, mainly by developing more education programs for portable devices. The report interviewed the dean of the faculty,  Song Hyon Joon (송현준), and said the development for these new programs is in the final stages.

“Providing a more convenient learning environment for students is an extremely important issue for distance learning,” he said in the report. “So we are in the final stages of developing new programs that will allow students to study through the portable device textbook system. As students in distance learning are continuing to increase, we are making sure that students can easily take distance learning exams in new exam rooms at the sci-tech offices of factories. Along with this, how students can apply what they learned more effectively and pursue learning in a creative manner is an important issue in improving testing methods so we are also adopting a new skill evaluation/exam method that will more objectively evaluate students.”

The smartcard login system wasn’t directly addressed and it appears that only one PC in the computing lab had a smartcard reader attached to it.

Kim Il Sung University’s distance learning system lab, shown on Korean Central Television on June 29, 2021. (Image: KCTV)

But the use of the smartcard and the description on the university website indicates that this is the standard login method for students.

Here’s the report:

The report didn’t go into detail on the platform but the university webpage says it has 12,000 students.

It is one of several distance education systems offered by universities and organizations in North Korea.

The most well known is from Kim Chaek University of Technology but state media has reported other universities are also offering courses to students nationwide including Pyongyang University of Architecture, Kim Hyong Jik University of Education, Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, Pyongyang University of Printing, Nampho University of Fisheries and the Sci-Tech Complex in Pyongyang.

Additional Reporting by Joanne Lee.

View Original Article
Stay informed about our latest
news, publications, & uploads:
I'm interested in...
38 North: News and Analysis on North Korea