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[In-depth interview]A mission to popularize Korean history

‘Instead of studying Korean history for tests at school, we hope to make people want to study Korean history of their own accord.’

Mar 14,2007
Yoo Young-nyol
Since his appointment last August, Yoo Young-nyol, chairman of the National Institute of Korean History (NIKH), has worked vigorously to make the Korean History Exam a success. Now, one bank is using it to test applicants for jobs. They can get extra points for passing the test.
“I congratulate and thank Woori Bank for being the first to put the Korean History Exam certificate to use,” Mr. Yoo said in a recent interview. His institute is a government organization whose mission is to research and compile all sorts of data on Korean history. It has published numerous historic-related materials since its founding in March 1946.
The strategy to popularize Korean history began last year, with the exam. “Our organization has no personal ties with Woori Bank. The decision was made solely by the bank, without any influence from the NIKH,” said Mr. Yoo. This has boosted morale as well as the profile of the institute. Members said this is the first time in almost 60 years the organization has gotten so much attention from the public and the media.
Mr. Yoo went on to emphasize that the success of the Korean History Exam will be key to making Korean history more accessible and popular. The effort has become the institute’s mission for the 21st century.
To further develop the Korean History Exam, Mr. Yoo said the institute will build a support center for history education, tentatively named the Korean History Education Foundation.

Q. Are there more examples besides Woori Bank adopting the Korean History Exam certificate?
A. There’s a continuous flow of inquiries from private high schools and companies after the first exam process last year. However, Woori Bank is the first to officially announce their plans. I firmly believe that after the exams this year, in May and October, more and more companies and public offices will be using the certificate in their employment process.

The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development was a bit tentative at first about the exam.
Now the ministry supports us fully. The education minister has promised to strengthen history education by giving support to organizations such as ours.

As more institutions adopt this exam, there will be more responsibilities for the institute as well.
I feel extremely responsible. For the exam to gain ground in a stable manner, good questions need to be constantly updated and the examination process needs to be managed properly so it can gain the trust of the public. At the institute, we need to first make the Korean History Education Foundation a part of our organization, as well as get other organizations to support history education. We also have to get enough funding.

With the Korean History Exam, will the status and role of the institute change?
The institute was founded in 1946. For the last 60 years, the fundamental role of the organization was to research and collect Korean historical materials and organize the data to fit the information-based society of today. But from now on, we will have the added role of making Korean history more popular among the public.

What exactly do you mean by popularizing Korean history?
Through the Korean History Exam, we will raise the interest of the public toward Korean history and make history education fun. As a part of the effort to introduce Korean history in the information era, the National Institute of Korean History has earlier attracted interest by making the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty [also known as the annual records of the royal family of the Joseon era] available on the Internet. We hope to further develop this interactive information technology and put it to more use.
The Korean History Exam is a crucial change in the study and popularization of Korean history. Boring history texts will become interesting. Instead of studying Korean history for tests at school, we hope to make people want to study Korean history of their own accord.

What did you feel was lacking during the first exam?
We had a rough start, without enough funding or manpower. We are in dire need of more support in funding and manpower.

Some said the first exam was too difficult.
A total of 48 percent of the applicants passed. The objective of the Korean History Exam is to raise understanding of Korean history. We plan to control the level of difficulty so the passing rate will be around 60 percent. I plan to get hold of talented teachers and professors to develop the questions. For the first exam, we also held a nationwide public contest to gather good questions. A total of 500 questions were gathered in this nationwide search. Of these, 150 will be excellent questions if they are reworded properly.
Who are your targets and how should one prepare for the test?
We estimate more than 30,000 applicants in May and around 50,000 in October. This second test will include level 1 and 2. Level 1 will be targeted to people who have either majored in history or are employed in fields related to history. Level 2 will test knowledge of history among regular undergraduates.

I understand that the exam will also be given in other countries this year.
This will be another field we will focus on. The first overseas Korean History Exam will take place in Kazakhstan in September, since the first ethnic Koreans abroad settled in central Asia. We will be handing out texts that focus on the large movements of Korean history, the characteristics of Korean culture and the history of the settlement of ethnic Koreans in Asia, and base the exam on this information. We will give a history tour to Korea for those who excel on the test.
In the future, we plan to make the exam more global, to include Japan and the United States. Los Angeles, where there are many Korean immigrants, is showing interest already.

What improvements are needed immediately for Korean history education?
To make Korean history interesting, various strategies and contents need to be developed. For middle and high schools, Korean history has to be taught by Korean history majors.
The education ministry has plans to improve this situation and I believe there will be a vast improvement in the future.


By Bae Young-dae JoongAng Ilbo [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]



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