History becoming mandatory again

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History becoming mandatory again

Eight years after it became optional, Korean history is set to reclaim its status as a required subject on the college entrance exam.

The Ministry of Education yesterday announced that all high school students will be required to take the subject on the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) starting in 2017.

The subject, which as general history and modern Korean history currently accounts for two of ten options on the social science segment of the CSAT, is to become a single, separate subject like math and English.

There will be six hours of history class a week instead of the current five, the ministry said, adding that aspiring history teachers will become subject to stricter standards.

Beginning in September, teacher’s license applicants must obtain a state certificate of level three or higher attesting to their knowledge of Korean history. The ministry is also considering only allowing candidates with such certification to apply for vice principal positions at high schools.

The constant decline in the number of students opting to take history fuelled the dispute over whether to make it compulsory again. Last year, it was taken by 7 percent of all students, down from 11.8 percent in 2011. When history was first made optional in 2005, 27.7 percent opted in. The shift was originally to give test-takers more leeway.

Education specialists say pupils tend to shy away from the subject and choose options that are perceived as easier. The dwindling numbers have been worrying the education minister as well as the general public.

“There has been growing concern that more and more students are losing their perspective on history,” said Education Minister Seo Nam-soo during the briefing after the announcement.

“The decision is meant to improve historical awareness among students and generate more interest in history in general,” the minister said.

Experts and government officials remain split as to how to bolster teenagers’ understanding of the past. Until recently, the Ministry of Education had maintained that changing the college entrance exam may cause confusion, but President Park Geun-hye’s support for making history mandatory helped expedite the discussion.

President Park Geun-hye said she fears that without proper history education young people of the future will know little of the country and society they live in.

“The history of a country is an essential part of the people, and someone who grows up without proper knowledge of history may become a person without a soul,” she said.

The president cited a local survey that showed nearly 70 percent of high school students incorrectly believe the 1950-53 Korean War was started when South Korea invaded the North.

“Problems associated with history education can be clearly sorted out if it becomes a mandatory subject,” President Park said last month.

Still, some critics say that the decision to obligate all college-bound students to take history limits students’ freedom of choice and may have negative side effects.

“If history is made mandatory without thorough preparation, students are more likely to just mindlessly memorize a series of historical events,” said Kang Kyu-hyung, a modern history professor at Myongji University. “I think proper history education should be preceded by quality teaching and teachers with a deep knowledge of Korean history,” he said.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]
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