North Korea has recently started to introduce state-of-the-art technology for the training of future schoolteachers in a possible world first.
At the newly remodeled Pyongyang Teacher Training College, the mostly female students study how to educate kindergartners and primary school children with the aid of virtual reality and 3D display technologies.
A group of Kyodo News reporters was granted rare access to the college late last week.
In one classroom is installed a large widescreen monitor on which are displayed animated avatars representing primary school pupils. Speaking to the virtual children through a microphone, they respond in a timely manner.
When a college student asked one animated pupil on the screen how he is, the boy quickly answered, "I'm very fine," just like a teacher and a child communicating in a real classroom.
The training program is apparently powered by artificial intelligence. But sometimes, other college students play the role of primary school pupils in a different classroom so that they can observe teachers' personality and behavior through the eyes of children, the college said.
By creating a situation more closely simulating reality, college students can learn how to interact with children more effectively, it said.
The college students also utilize projection mapping, in which images are mapped onto 3D objects, and augmented reality, a technology that overlays digital images onto the real world.
They can experience the natural environment and get a close look at the lives of wild animals and birds using 3D virtual reality goggles, as well as feel how things change their forms by scooping sand projected on the screen with their hands.
A sphere with projection mapping technology instantly becomes Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter, and other planets. College students can visually recognize what the differences between stars are.
These cannot be learned from textbooks.
The college said it has developed a curriculum that can enable teachers in the making to acquire teaching skills both physically and theoretically, while putting emphasis on North Korea's traditional ways to raise children.
"Have you ever seen such a place in other countries?" said Pak Gum Hui, the 44-year-old president of the college. "Our program is globally advanced."
In North Korea, there is a tradition that teachers, family and society cooperate to foster children. At the college, therefore, students are required to learn how to educate mothers and to communicate closely with family to shape children's characters.
Tapping into advanced technologies, "We are also trying to promote the combination of school education and family education," Pak said.
The Pyongyang Teacher Training College, founded in 1968, has around 1,600 students. This year marks the 50th anniversary of its foundation.
The number of applicants has increased every year, the college said, adding that the acceptance rate has been about 20 percent in recent years. Nearly 70 percent of kindergarten and primary school teachers are female in North Korea.
In February 2017, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gave instructions to turn the college into a model put on a scientific, information technology and modern basis at a high level and generalize it across the country, according to state-run media.
The project for upgrading the college, which has a total floor space of over 24,000 square meters, was concluded in October last year.
In January, the leader visited the college and expressed satisfaction at the state of its "ultra-modern education facilities," the Korean Central News Agency reported.
Students in North Korea have to complete 12 years of compulsory education prior to college -- one year in kindergarten, five years in primary school, three years in lower secondary school and another three years in higher secondary school.
Would-be teachers were seen taking classes with earnest facial expressions. During a break, they were walking with smiles on the campus, saying "hi" to passersby.