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Blue House denies decision on textbook

Cheong Wa Dae Wednesday denied reports that the government has decided to adopt state-published textbooks for secondary education history, amid growing dispute over the possible change strongly opposed by key educators and progressives.

The Education Ministry also released a statement earlier in the day denying a local news report that it had agreed with Cheong Wa Dae to allow only the government to author history textbooks.

“As of now, the ministry has yet to reach a decision on the state history textbook issue,” a ministry official said.

The government has been contemplating reintroducing the state history textbook system for secondary education, -- which was established in the 1970s and has gradually disappeared since 2002 -- after the quality of textbooks came into question last year.

Korea currently has state-published history textbooks for elementary schools, but allows eight publishers to author books for middle and high schools.

Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea has emphasized the importance of students learning from “one version of history” that will supposedly help students obtain the correct perception of history.

Kim Moo-sung, chairman of the ruling Saenuri Party, is also one of most outspoken champions of the state history textbook.

But the prospect of state-published history textbooks has prompted concerns from many educators across the country.

Education superintendents from Seoul, Incheon and Gangwon and Gyeonggi Provinces released a joint statement Tuesday to decry the attempt.

“The state must set the boundary of curriculum based on a social agreement, and allow education of various forms and content within that boundary,” they said, adding that state textbooks are “in disaccord with the values of democracy, autonomy or diversity.”

Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy said that 15 of 17 education chiefs in Korea disapprove of state history textbooks for secondary education.

In a survey conducted by Kim on 24,195 teachers at middle and high schools throughout Korea, 77.7 percent of the respondents said they oppose the state history textbooks.

“As the majority in the education circles oppose the state history textbooks, the government’s attempt to reinstate the system should be abandoned right now,” Kim said.

The Korea Teachers and Education Worker’s Union, the nation’s largest left-leaning teachers’ group, also raised objections against the system, along with 2,255 members of the Association of Korean History Teachers who released a joint statement last week.

But some groups have said that history textbooks published under the current system fail to impart accurate historical knowledge to students, and that the state needs to take control in authoring a “correct version of history” in textbooks.

In a forum held Tuesday at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul, the right-leaning Parents’ Association for Reviving Public Education claimed that the current history textbooks contain content that is biased in favor of the leftists, such as by saying both South and North Korea are responsible for the 1950-53 Korean War.

The state history textbook issue is expected to spark a bipartisan standoff during Thursday’s parliamentary audit of the Education Ministry.

By Yoon Min-sik