Rethinking history education
Ms. Hong, 46, left for New Zealand with two middle school boys in 2010. With her children attending school there, she found many differences from education in Korea. One of them was that teachers didn’t use textbooks in class. “When electric current was discussed in science class, students watched three videos and received handouts. Without a designated textbook, the teacher has to prepare for the class thoroughly,” Hong wrote in her contribution to the “Overseas Education Report by Moms” for the JoongAng Ilbo’s Gangnam Report.
Schools in other countries also teach without textbooks. Ms. Moon, 50, said that at her son’s high school in Minnesota, “classes are taught using notebook computers containing various content, not with textbooks.” Students review books in English class and participate in hands-on experiments in science. Ms. Jeon, 39, whose children go to an elementary school in Los Angeles, said she has never received or bought textbooks, but English academies in Korea use “American textbooks.”
These foreign examples are noteworthy alongside the government and ruling party’s desire for state-authored history textbooks. The Saenuri Party claims that state-designated Korean history textbooks are President Park Geun-hye’s conviction, and on Oct. 1, a special committee to improve history textbooks was formed. However, the need for state-authored textbooks is so far from the reality in classrooms in Korea.
The high school curriculum in Korea focuses on college admission, and a history teacher at a Seoul high school said, “Korean history is a memorization-oriented subject, and school-wide midterm and final tests have multiple-choice questions. The whole textbook is not covered, and summaries are distributed. So there is no difference between state-approved and state-authored textbooks.” Moreover, Korean history will become a required subject on the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) in 2017, and the government maintains a policy that 70 percent of the CSAT must be linked to EBS material. The teacher added, “Just like other subjects, students will focus more on EBS material than on the textbook.”
Reinforcing history education takes more than textbooks. Ms. Yun, 46, is raising four children in Greece, and she is impressed with history education here. Students learn about mythology and ancient history in class and go on field trips to related sites. For historically significant days, such as Independence Day, all students participate in a play or poetry reading. “The hands-on education generates pride in the nation and the people,” she said.
The Park administration introduced the flexible semester in middle school, which could offer a program of visiting presidential memorials. If the ruling party advocates state-authored textbooks instead of proposing a productive alternative, they cannot avoid criticism for using the textbook to attract votes for next year’s general election.
The author is a deputy national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 2, Page 30
by KIM SUNG-TAK