State textbooks postponed for one year

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State textbooks postponed for one year

The Ministry of Education announced Tuesday it will postpone the controversial state-authored textbooks by a year, and from 2018, schools will still be able to opt for authorized private textbooks.

In the upcoming 2017 school year, which starts in the spring semester, schools will be able to continue to use the current authorized textbooks, while those that wish can try the state-written ones and become designated test cases, said the ministry. And in 2018, schools will be able to choose between authorized private textbooks and the government-issued ones.

“By allowing schools to choose between the authorized private textbooks and state-authorized textbooks, we plan to ensure autonomy and diversity, as well as to improve the overall quality of history textbooks in 2018,” said Minister of Education Lee Joon-sik at a press briefing at the Sejong government complex.

“The decision was reached after receiving the opinions of the public, the National Assembly, education chiefs and civic organizations,” said Lee, who doubles as deputy prime minister for social affairs. “More than anything, there cannot be chaos in education.”

When asked how the decision to allow both state-authored and authorized textbooks was reached, the minister replied there was quite a lot of support for the state-authored textbooks and it was an opportunity to test them both out and provide a choice.

In October 2015, the Park Geun-hye administration announced it would implement government-issued textbooks for middle and high schools, which prompted backlash from students, teachers, parents, lawmakers, civic organizations and provincial education chiefs who criticized the move as harkening back to Korea’s authoritarian past.

History textbooks authored by the government were introduced in 1974 under the military rule of late President Park Chung Hee and lasted until 2010.

One month ago, the Education Ministry, despite the ongoing abuse of power scandal involving Park Geun-hye, revealed draft versions of state-authored history textbooks for Korean middle and high school students to use next year.

Initially, the final versions of the textbooks are to be completed in January, printed in February and distributed to middle and high school students across the nation in March.

The Education Ministry said it received a total of 3,807 public opinion entries over the month through Friday. Of these, 1,630 were opinions related to the content, 67 noted typos and 31 were related to errors in images.

There were 911 entries expressing support for the state-authored textbooks, compared to 229 against it. Initially, there were more entries opposed to the state-authored textbooks, but an Education Ministry official said over 700 entries in support of the government textbooks came in on the last day.

Also, 1,590 requested a revision of the passage describing the Republic of Korea as being founded in 1948, three years after Japan ended its 35 years of colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.

Liberal scholars view 1919 as the official founding of the Republic of Korea, when a provisional government was founded in Shanghai by independence activists. The ministry said it has reflected on 21 of the submitted revisions and is reviewing another 808.

Civic organizations rallied in front of the Sejong government complex to protest the state-authored textbooks. Lawmakers of the three opposition parties, who have called for the scrapping of the government textbooks, held a press conference Tuesday at the National Assembly describing the government decision as equal to “an announcement that it will push through with the implementation of the state history textbooks” and a “ploy to trick the people.”

Some city and provincial education superintendents likewise criticized the government decision to delay the implementation of state-authored textbooks as only a “temporary remedy.”

“The postponement of the application of the state history textbooks by a year is but a way for the Education Ministry to admit the problems with it and conceal them,” said Lee Jae-jeong, superintendent of the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education, through a statement.

“State-authored textbooks that were pushed forward by the Park Geun-hye administration in a manner that was not democratic, not constitutional and not conducive to education need to be halted and scrapped.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joognang.co.kr]

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