In a move which should resonate with its communist northern neighbor,South Korea’s government says it will introduce plans to control the history textbooks used by schools. At present, schools can choose from textbooks published by eight different publishing companies, but starting in 2017 and going forward, all schools will be required to only use history textbooks issued by the state.
The government is arguing that current history textbooks lean too far to the Korean political left and encourage anti-American and pro-North Korea feelings. The move has been met with fierce criticism from opposition parties and academics who say the government plan will be “distorting history”. They say that President Park Geun-hye’s conservative government is returning education to the country’s authoritarian past.
Under the rule of the current president’s father – President Park Chung-hee – South Korea required schools to use a single government-issued history textbook. This changed in 2010, and since then schools have been free to choose from several privately published textbooks, although the Education Ministry still has to approve the selections.
The new textbook – The Correct Textbook of History – will be written by a panel of history teachers and academics appointed by the Government.
Student groups are also against the move. One told the Korea Times that “such a textbook will allow the government to interfere with the interpretation and teaching of history. This infringes on the independence and political neutrality of education guaranteed by the Constitution.”
However the chairman of the ruling Saenuri Party, Hwang Woo-yea, says the government-issued textbooks will be “neutral” and that the change was necessary because “students and their parents are discontented with the current textbooks”.
Referring to the accuracy of history books currently being used he says, “The house is not just leaking or requires small repairs here and there, but its very foundation and design are wrong.”
History in East Asia is a commonly contested issue and is often the fuel for diplomatic rifts and territorial disputes in the region.