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[Opinion] Textbook Reform

Posted September. 05, 2008 07:17,   


Textbooks are divided into three types: government-designated textbooks whose copyrights are held by the government; authorized textbooks developed by private publishers following state guidelines first and examined by the government later; and approved textbooks examined by the government after publication. History textbooks used in public schools are government designated but those on modern history, an elective course, are authorized textbooks. Modern history textbooks made by Kumsung Publishing are blamed for having biased contents. A school superintendent committee decided yesterday to reduce the use of left-leaning modern history textbooks in schools. The superintendents` unprecedented expression of worry over left-leaning textbooks is evidence of a regime change in Korea.

Modern history textbooks published by Kumsung imply that Korea has been dominated by immoral leaders who lack historical consciousness. Kumsung’s modern history textbooks even include the following sentences: "U.S. occupation of South Korea played a bigger role in dividing a unified Korea into two nations"; "The Soviet army had the features of a liberation army"; "Efforts to launch a new nation based on the national spirit came to nothing"; and "North Korea’s emphasis on its juche (self-reliance) ideology in sociology shows its effort to stand on its own two feet." I want to ask the editors of the textbooks whether they understand North Korea is far from standing on its own two feet.

Left-leaning textbooks underestimate the meaning of the Republic of Korea`s foundation, rapid economic development considered as a miracle by the international society, and Koreans’ efforts and struggle to build a better nation. Worse, they fail to mention about North Korea human rights abuses, death by starvation, malfunctioning economic system and defectors. Given that half of schools in South Korea use textbooks published by Kumsung, our students have been taught false information on North Korea. Certain social studies textbooks provide an unreasonable explanation on market economics and opening and corporations, all of which contributed to the "miracle of the Han River."

In principle, principals have the final say on textbook selection. In many cases, however, textbooks are chosen by the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union. Kim Gu-hyeon, who has conducted research on the union, said, “Many teachers belonging to the union create additional teaching materials or provide computer files when they disagree with the contents of selected textbooks.” Parents are now forced to guard against textbooks distorting historical facts.

Editorial Writer Huh Mun-myeong (angelhuh@donga.com)