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Progressive superintendent and defense education

Posted November. 27, 2010 03:19,   


“Is our country going to war?” This is what my son, a second grader, said upon arriving home from school the day North Korea launched an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island. He lost interest in the national soccer team`s game against the United Arab Emirates at the Asian Games the same day. Watching Yeonpyeong filled with smoke arising from the North’s attack, he expressed worry over his future when he has to serve his compulsory military service. The situation of the North’s shelling onto South Korean territory in daytime, which rocked a peaceful routine day, should have come as huge shock to the young generation. This is valuable experience that taught my son that peace is never to be taken for granted.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. There are gaps as huge as the six decade-long history between generations in their value judgments about the nation and perceptions toward national defense. According to a survey on perceptions towards national defense on adults and minors, the gauge of such recognition was 60.23 points for adults and 49.16 points for children and teenagers. The ratio of people who accurately said the war broke out in 1950 was 63.7 percent for adults and 46.3 percent for minors. South Koreans’ recognition of peace and security is to have been enhanced following the Cheonan sinking by North Korea’s torpedo attack in March.

Kwak No-hyun, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, removed the budget for reunification and security education, including academic events meant to help students develop recognition of reunification and security, onsite tours to Unification Observatory, the truce village of Panmunjom, North Korea’s underground tunnels built for invading the South, and introduction of books and literature on reunification and security to schools. Young students are often disillusioned by unfounded rumors, including “alleged outbreak of the Korean War due to South Korea’s attack on North Korea,” largely because older generations have failed to give adequate and proper education to young people. Grownups should bear responsibility to educate students to learn the unique nature of inter-Korean relations and the genuine face of North Korea. The North has mobilized massive firepower and created a standoff against the South despite both Koreas having the same people.

Immediately after the North’s attack, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education hurriedly announced that schools of all levels will hold courses to revive recognition of national security and keep peace through early December. The true intent and sincerity of this move are suspicious. It is ill-advised to seek to conduct piecemeal education only in the wake of the North’s devastating attack. South Korea must provide constant education to students about the ruthless forces plaguing the Korean Peninsula, the world’s only divided country. Does Kwak believe providing free lunch to all students is more important than educating them on reunification and defense when South Korean territory came under attack and civilians and soldiers were killed? Does providing across-the-board free lunch constitutes teaching or philosophy of this era, which even trumps national defense?

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)