Let students see the North straight

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Let students see the North straight

In the late days of the Kim Dae-jung administration, Mount Kumgang tourism was struggling with a deficit, and the Ministry of Unification came up with an idea to send elementary, middle and high school students and teachers there as a field trip. They would fill up the tourist quota, and the inter-Korean cooperation fund would pay for the expenses. Until the Roh Moo-hyun administration, tens of billions of won in taxpayers’ money was used every year, and the brokers visited schools around the country, luring students and teachers with free tours. The government advertised the program as a hands-on reunification education to show young Koreans what North Korea was really like.

A reporter asked one of the elementary students visiting Mount Kumgang what it felt like to be in North Korea for the first time. He said, “I like North Korea better.” The reporter and teachers were puzzled. When asked why, he responded, “I got to have fried eggs, ham and sausage with orange juice for breakfast. Also, I slept on a bed.”

It was only natural that a kid from a rural school was impressed by the facilities and service. Neither the teachers nor the tour operator nor the Ministry of Unification staffs told the children that Mount Kumgang was in North Korea but all the facilities and services were provided by Hyundai Asan. The outcome of the hands-on reunification education was devastating. The dark shade of the Sunshine Policy loomed over unification education in schools for a long while.

A few days ago, President Park Geun-hye ordered a complete improvement on the problems of unification education. In a recent survey, 69 percent of high school students responding to the survey said that the 1950-53 Korean War was a northward invasion, and President Park said that the education at schools was at fault. Some argue that the students did not understand the exact meaning of “northward invasion” and “southward invasion” and the problem is not so serious in fact. But they are trying to water down the essence of the situation. It is incomprehensible that high school students were taught about the Korean War and North Korea’s provocation without understanding who invaded whom.

The current state of unification education can be seen from the Institute for Unification Education in Suyuri, Seoul. The Lee Myung-bak administration appointed former Kim Il-sung University professor and North Korean defector Jo Myung-cheol as the director in June 2011. But nine months later, he became a Saenuri Party proportional representative and resigned from the post. Dr. Jeon Gyeong-man from the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses was appointed as the director, only to be replaced half a year later when the Park Geun-hye administration took over.

While the new director is currently in the process of appointment, the institute’s directorship has been vacant for four months already. Even the directors of the Korea Institute for National Unification have been replaced after scandals and inappropriate remarks, both institutes housed in the same complex are under acting leadership for an extended period. Some joke that the “unification twins in Suyuri are seriously ill.”

Without the awakening of the future generation, there would be no reunification. And the current generation is responsible for making the future leaders of the unification era blind. Blind trust of Pyongyang is an intermediate stop to a pro-Pyongyang tendency. We need an unprecedented revolution in unification education to let the blind children see North Korea straight.

*The author is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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