Ministry to tighten textbook scrutiny

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Jan 13, 2014 - 20:00
  • Updated : Jan 13, 2014 - 21:09
The South Korean government announced Monday that it had reached an agreement with the ruling Saenuri Party to improve the factual accuracy of history textbooks.

The decision came as a dispute over alleged bias in a textbook by Kyohak Publishing Co. intensified into an ideological war.

Nearly all the schools that initially selected the Kyohak textbook were pressured to withdraw their selection by students, parents and left-leaning civic groups.

Last week, a governmental probe found that certain civic groups had pressed certain schools to drop Kyohak’s book. The Education Ministry did not provide the groups’ names.

The ministry and Saenuri vowed to work on providing legal safeguards that will prevent outside parties from intervening in the textbook selection process.

“The point (of the government plan for improvement) is not that the existing system has errors, but that the system is not being properly followed in the process of schools selecting textbooks,” said Rep. Kim Hee-jung of the Saenuri Party.

Political parties have bickered over who is responsible for the textbook bedlam. The ruling party and the Education Ministry claimed schools were unlawfully pressured, while the main opposition Democratic Party said it was the “collective intellect” of students and parents to reject the supposedly faulty textbook.

Some claimed that teachers have been pressured by schools to choose Kyohak’s book against their will.

Chang-ui, a member of the Gyeonggi Provincial Assembly, said he found evidence and testimony showing that schools were pressured to select Kyohak’s book.

The DP and historians have charged that Kyohak’s book justifies Japanese colonialism and South Korea’s past military leadership. Experts also took issue with numerous errors. A government study showed that Kyohak’s book had to go through 751 instances of revision, substantially more than the 186 revisions made to seven other state-authorized textbooks combined.

In the face of the textbook conundrum, Saenuri suggested going back to the pre-2002 system of all schools using a government-published textbook. Monday’s announcement stated that launching a state textbook was one of the possibilities considered by the government.

The idea of a state textbook, however, created an uproar among the opposition, who denounced the proposal as “vandalizing the idea of democracy.”

By Yoon Min-sik (