Correct history textbooksTeaching Korean history accurately with good textbooks is just as important as restoring its status as a mandatory high school subject. Younger generations should be entitled to a good history education focused on self-confidence, national pride and liberal democracy.
But today’s Korean textbooks are flawed in many ways. Many facts are inappropriate or biased. The government and scholars should collaborate to fix them. The National Institute of Korean History and a government-led steering committee on reforming history education will be taking up the task.
A recent seminar provided a platform where participants could debate the problems in high school textbooks and seek strategies to fix many areas. Of the six history textbooks available, two cited the Korean government as “authoritarian” 21 times, but referred the North Korean regime in the same way just five times. And five of the six textbooks described the hereditary power transfer of the Kim dynasty as a “succession of power” and an “establishment of heir.” We can hardly expect the young to grow up with a balanced perspective of South and North Korea in such an educational environment.
At the request of the Federation of Korean Industries, Park Hyo-jong. a professor at Seoul National University, conudcted a separate study on history textbooks that underscored the same problems.
In one textbook, North Korea’s land reform was said to be fairer than South Korea’s because the former appropriates land for free, while South Korea makes its farmers buy their land. But the textbook failed to mention that North Korea took back all the land for collective farming.
The South Korean industrialization model was also described negatively. The textbook described it as being driven mostly by conglomerates under the sponsorship of the government. The book ignored the merits of international trade, South Korean companies large and small making inroads in overseas markets and the economic benefits of hiring migrant workers. The textbook instead featured a farming activist killing himself at a ministerial meeting of the WTO in protest of opening up the Korean market.
Textbooks must comply with state-recommended guidelines. Content is published in line with a framework suggested in the guideline. The education guideline is being rewritten for the first time since 2009. The new framework should reflect modern history and economic accomplishments in an accurate perspective.