History textbooks get final approval

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History textbooks get final approval

The controversy surrounding ideological biases in eight history textbooks ended yesterday, with the Ministry of Education giving final approvals to the books revised under its order.

“We approved eight high school history textbooks that completed revisions and modifications,” Education Minister Seo Nam-soo said yesterday at a media briefing. “We will start displaying them online [for schools to review and select].”

Problems started in September when the ministry announced its plan to revise the eight history textbooks, which had already passed the initial certification process. The textbooks, screened by the state-run National Institute of Korean History, had all received approval in August.

In October, the ministry recommended the eight textbook publishers make a total of 829 revisions. While Kyohak Publishing Company - criticized for its conservative, right-wing biases - agreed to make all the changes, authors of the other seven refused to accept the recommendations, preferring to make their own revision plans.

The ministry gave a final ultimatum on Nov. 29, ordering seven high school history textbook publishers to make 41 revisions to their books before the start of the next academic year. Liber School was the only publisher that received no correction order and the ministry gave it an approval on the same day. On Dec. 3, the publishers of the seven textbooks submitted their revisions, with the ministry confirming yesterday that the changes for all seven books were satisfactory.

“I apologize to the public for troubling them with these issues,” said Minister Seo. “I hope this can be viewed as a process in which to bring balanced historical views and an appropriate understanding of national identity to our students.”

The revisions made in the final stage largely dealt with issues on North Korea. Five of the publishers accepted the ministry’s order to include the shortcomings of North Korea’s land reform and stated that Pyongyang restricted ownership over land distributed to farmers. Two publishers also explicitly stated that the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 were committed by the North.

Seo said the ministry will overhaul the textbook authentication system to prevent another ideological dispute.

“The practice of approving the textbooks first and then changing them the next year when problems arose was wrong,” the education minister said. “If we improve the authentication system, it’s possible to modify the contents without issuing correction orders.”

Asked if government-published textbooks would be reinstated, he replied, “It is not something a minister alone can decide.”

With the final approvals, teachers yesterday were given access to the eight textbooks online. The publications will be provided to schools next week and they will have until the end of this year to select one of the eight.

However, it has yet to be seen whether the process will encounter resistance. The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union said yesterday that it will move to boycott the Kyohak textbook for its conservative biases.

Additionally, authors from six textbook publishers - Kumsung Publishing; Doosan Dong-A Printing; MiraeN; Visang Education; Jihaksa Publishing; and Chunjae Education - filed an injunction with the Seoul Administrative Court earlier this month to scrap the ministry’s revision orders.

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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