[VIEWPOINT]A flaw in Korean educationDisputes over history between Korea and its Asian neighbors have become national issues, and many Koreans have been upset about them. Japan’s claim to the Dokdo islands and the distortions of history in some of its textbooks are not matters that will be resolved easily, nor will China’s unreasonable claims about the ancient kingdoms of Go Joseon and Goguryeo. These are serious challenges to Korea’s national identity.
History has become an important issue not just in Korea’s relations with foreign countries. Restoring the honor of people who suffered unjustly when political freedom was harshly restricted in Korea and settling matters associated with collaborators of the Japanese colonial government are more complex matters than disputes with foreign countries. To untangle the domestic issues, accurate, broad and deep understanding and knowledge of history are essential.
That, however, seems particularly difficult because Koreans in general have a very low understanding and knowledge of history. Experts have been detailing how Japanese textbooks give inaccurate presentations of historical facts. But we wonder how many young Koreans have accurate knowledge of such history.
We also have to ask ourselves whether Korean students are learning about Japan and other countries as much as Japanese students are studying about Korea, and whether the lessons are based on correct information or not. We are concerned about whether Koreans who do not have an accurate understanding of their own history would be able to face Japan and China’s strategic challenges and defend Korea’s rights in the international community by providing concise and thorough explanations from Korea’s point of view.
Koreans’ lack of understanding of their history is rooted in the poor educational reform processes. In most countries, elementary school children learn about their country’s history in social studies classes. At middle and high schools, the classes are divided into three separate subjects ― history, geography and social studies.
In history classes, politics, the economy, society and culture are arranged and taught through the framework of change and development with an axis of time. In geography classes, the subjects are taught based on the axis of space with a perception of diversity. In social studies classes, students study the same aspects with a focus on values that the people must respect as members of a society.
Unfortunately, for Korean students, such a basis of education has been frequently changed. Politics, the economy, society and culture, which have to be the content of history, geography and social studies courses, have been separately taught, and history was either taught as part of social studies classes or left alone as one of the electives, under the justification that there are too many required subjects. Therefore, history has been avoided because test preparations are normally considered difficult. A high school freshman spends just two hours a week learning Korean history. That is insufficient for a proper education.
In the aftermath of the recently initiated “war of history” with its Asian neighbors, Korea’s Education Ministry is now carrying out a project to make history an independent subject, and that is welcome news. The nation had an awakening that Koreans cannot live in this era of turmoil without having an accurate understanding of history, and that contributed greatly to the ministry’s decision.
Through this opportunity, it should be emphasized that middle schools and high schools must not teach Korean history that lacks views of world history. Without understanding the affairs of Korea’s neighbors that have an influence on this country, it is impossible to have a proper understanding of the country’s history ― whether it is an era of globalization or not.
Today, when the destiny of the world has become one and cultural fields play a prominent role in the economy, understanding the history and culture of other countries is directly connected to our economic survival as well as security. Although history disputes threaten the peace of Northeast Asia, we must not be agitated. By strengthening history education, we must prepare for the future with a long-term view.
* The writer is a professor emeritus at Myongji University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee In-ho