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Education nominee hints at state-authored textbook

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Published : 2014-08-07 21:16
Updated : 2014-08-07 21:16

Hwang Woo-yea, the nominee for education minister and deputy prime minister for social affairs, said Thursday that South Korea needs to provide “consistent” history lessons for students, signaling he might revive the controversial state-authored history textbooks.

“The important thing is that the state takes responsibility and provides a unified history lesson for students. That way we can prevent division within the public opinion,” he said during his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly.

Earlier this year, controversy over an allegedly biased and substandard history textbook snowballed into an ideological war. The possibility of reviving the state textbook system ― which started during the 16-year rule of former President Park Chung-hee and was abolished in 2002 ― was raised by the conservative bloc. 
Education Minister-nominee Hwang Woo-yea takes an oath at the National Assembly in Seoul prior to his confirmation hearing Thursday. (Lee Gil-dong/The Korea Herald)

While the former Saenuri leader did not explicitly say he approved of the notion, his remarks at the hearing along with previous comments that history classes should be a place of “national unity” were suspected to herald a revival of the state-authored textbooks.

The political heavyweight was generally consistent with other conservatives on major education-related issues as well. He endorsed the elitist education system, saying that the controversial autonomous private high school system ― de facto elite schools that charge higher tuitions and grant leeway over curriculum ― should be expanded.

Hwang also emphasized the importance of education for toddlers up to age 2.

But he took a different stance from right-leaning educators on possibly changing how education superintendents are elected. Right-leaning groups have called the government to adopt indirect election for superintendents after left-leaning educators took 13 of 17 education offices in June election, but Hwang said he wished to retain the direct election system.

Hwang refrained from making rash remarks when lawmakers from opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy raised allegations, such as that he lied about his earnings as a lawyer in the early 2000s. The NPAD lawmakers also mentioned the accusations that his son received special treatment during his mandatory military service.

He denied all the allegations.

The ruling Saenuri lawmakers defended Hwang’s apparent lack of education-related experience, saying that Hwang had been a member of a parliamentary committee for education for 13 years.

“Those who say he lacks expertise are the ones really lacking the expertise,” said Rep. Ahn Hong-joon of the Saenuri Party.

While Hwang faced questions from the lawmakers, some 50 left-leaning civic groups gathered outside the parliament and demanded he step down. They said the nominee was politically biased and morally unqualified to be the education minister.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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