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New textbook guidelines spark controversy

Oh Seung-geol, an official from the Education Ministry, speaks at a briefing held Wednesday at the governmental complex in Sejong. (Yonhap)
Oh Seung-geol, an official from the Education Ministry, speaks at a briefing held Wednesday at the governmental complex in Sejong. (Yonhap)


The Ministry of Education took a step back as the dispute over history textbook guidelines deepened, saying the plan has not been finalized yet.

The Education Ministry released new guidelines for high school history textbooks on Tuesday. In the new guidelines, phrases such as "southward invasion (by North Korea)" and “liberal democracy" were left out. The phrases touch on some sensitive disputes in the country’s modern history.

The revision of history textbooks was led by a research team created during the Moon Jae-in administration.

The ministry held a press briefing the following day in response, emphasizing that the guidelines were not finalized in response to criticisms.

At the briefing, the ministry said it agrees with the use of terms such as “southward invasion during the Korean War” and “liberal democracy,” as the terms are common knowledge backed by the Constitution’s principles and historical facts.

“To help the future generation have a balanced view of history, we will work for a revision of the history textbook guidelines based on the Constitution, which the people can agree with,” an official from the ministry said.

Some of the terms and phrases that were omitted or replaced from the new guidelines are the subject of fierce debate due to their ideological nuances, with some supporting and some opposed to their omission or replacement.

Regarding North Korea’s invasion of South Korea during the Korean War, the new guidelines excluded the phrase "southward invasion.” The new guidelines simply refer to “the Korean War and the prolonged division of the Korean Peninsula.”

The description is a departure from that in previous guidelines. The 2018 guidelines said the Korean War was brought on by the southward invasion by North Korea. Further back, the 2015 guidelines said the war was evoked by the all-out southward invasion by the North Korean regime.

In addition, the new guidelines also replaced the term “liberal democracy” with simply “democracy” in describing the development of the state system of Korea.

The term "liberal democracy" has been a source of dispute between liberal and conservative ideologies in Korea. Some argue using the term “liberal democracy” can differentiate South Korea from North Korea, while others argue “democracy” is enough to explain the current state system.

In regards to the criticisms, the ministry said it will collect more opinions online until Oct. 13. This is the first time for the ministry to officially gather public opinion regarding the revision of textbook guidelines. It will hold several more meetings next month before the new guidelines go under committee deliberations.

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com

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