PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea's parliament passed a law Tuesday to add one more year to compulsory education in the socialist nation in the first publicly-announced policy change under leader Kim Jong Un.
Deputies to the Supreme People's Assembly convened in the capital for the second time in six months — a notable departure from the once-a-year sessions during late leader Kim Jong Il's rule.
The session is being watched closely for policy changes under new young leader Kim Jong Un, who took over as leader after his father's death in December.
According to the official Korean Central News Agency, the parliament voted to extend state-sponsored schooling from 11 to 12 years. Kim was among those attending the session, KCNA said.
North Korea's constitution guarantees free education for its schoolchildren. However, the dispatch did not say how much adding another year to schooling would cost the government.
There were no other immediate details about further policy changes if any during the session at the austere Mansudae Assembly Hall in the capital Pyongyang.
The Supreme People's Assembly has 687 elected deputies from across the country who meet to discuss and pass laws and policies, as well as elect or recall figures serving in leadership posts of top state organizations, according to Kim Song Chun, an official from the parliament's Presidium.
At the last session in April, Kim Jong Un was made first chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, the body's top post.
The Presidium did not release an agenda for the one-day session, and foreign reporters were denied access to the session.
Holding a second parliamentary session within six months of the April gathering could mark a return to regular governance, said John Delury of Yonsei University in South Korea.
He noted that North Korea's founding leader Kim Il Sung often held two sessions a year, but his son, Kim Jong Il, held no sessions during his first three years in power, a time when Kim was observing the traditional three-year period of mourning for a parent.
"This was part of a general trend under Kim Jong Il of holding less frequent and less regular meetings of key party and government organs," Delury said. "So the striking thing is that Kim Jong Un seems to be reversing that trend by regularizing and re-institutionalizing governance."
Delegates to the current legislature were elected in March 2009.
According to North Korean law, the legislators have to win approval of a committee — made up of more than 100 voters — to stand in the elections. The law allows for a contest between multiple candidates, but in the last polls all the deputies — from the ruling Workers' Party — were elected unopposed from every constituency.
North Korea claims to allow other political parties but politics is overwhelmingly dominated by the Workers' Party, founded by Kim Il Sung.
Before closing the session, the parliament also made legislative personnel changes, filling two vacancies on the Presidium and replacing the chairman of the Budget Committee with senior Workers' Party official Kwak Pom Gi.
Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea. Follow Jean Lee, AP's Korea bureau chief, at twitter.com/newsjean.