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State-authored history textbooks not mandatory: ministry

State-authored history textbooks will be officially released for use in schools in March 2018 instead of March next year as initially planned, the Education Ministry announced Tuesday.

The ministry also scrapped plans to mandate all schools to use the state-authored textbooks, effectively signaling the renunciation of one of the most disputed projects initiated by the Park Geun-hye administration.

“Schools that wish to use the state-written history textbooks earlier (than the given timeline) may start doing so in March (next year),” Lee Joon-sik, the education minister and deputy prime minister for social affairs said at a press briefing at the government complex in Sejong City.
Education Minister Lee Joon-sik speaks during a press briefing at the Sejong Government Complex on Tuesday. Yonhap
Education Minister Lee Joon-sik speaks during a press briefing at the Sejong Government Complex on Tuesday. Yonhap
Those who start using the history textbooks earlier will test them out before their official release.

“Though there have been demands to discard the state-authored textbooks entirely, we also received some positive feedback and so decided to allow the usage of both the state-written and state-authorized textbooks,” Lee said.

After the ministry’s announcement, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae expressed disappointment over the decision.

“It is regrettable (that the textbook project has been hindered) but there was nothing we could do under the current circumstances,” a Blue House official said.

President Park, who has been in seclusion since her impeachment resolution on Dec. 9, is also said to have urged for the implementation of the textbook plan during a meeting with officials last week.

Opposition parties, however, refused to embrace the ministry’s compromising solution and continued to push for the pending motion billed to ban state-authored textbooks.

“Discarding all the state-authored textbooks is the only answer, not delaying the application date,” said Rep. Ki Dong-min, the floor spokesperson for the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.

The runner-up opposition People’s party also condemned the ministry, calling it “irresponsible” and “stubborn” for ignoring the public sentiments.

The lawmakers and civic groups have criticized Park’s drive to mandate the state-written textbooks, accusing her of attempting to glorify the military dictatorship of her father. Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, was a military strongman who ruled the country for 18 years until his assassination in 1979.

The Education Ministry had released three draft copies of the state-authored history textbooks and made them available to the public in order to gather opinions, up to last week.

Some 76,949 citizens looked over the textbooks a total of 146,851 times, and 2,334 of them submitted their opinions on the textbooks, the ministry revealed.

The Education Ministry said it will edit 21 errors pointed out by citizens, while another 808 errors will be discussed by experts.

Pundits predict Park’s history textbooks might be abolished after the next presidential election, which is expected to take place earlier than scheduled, as Park’s impeachment charges are currently being examined by the Constitutional Court.

If her impeachment is approved by the court, the next election has to take place within 60 days.

The government released plans for the state-authored history textbooks in October last year, as the president showed concerns that the seven existing history textbooks contain some biased, left-leaning interpretation of history.

By Jo He-rim (