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Ministry keeps textbook review committee under wraps

The Education Ministry said Monday it has confirmed 16 members of the review committee for secondary education history textbooks, but refused to disclose the members, stoking further opposition against the process it had originally vowed to keep transparent.

According to the ministry, the committee will be entrusted with the task of reviewing the finished textbooks based on governmental criteria and has the right to demand revisions if the book falls short of standards “in an independent and a neutral way.” Officials said the committee consists of “prestigious professionals, teachers and parents.”

The entrance to the National Institute of Korean History in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)
The entrance to the National Institute of Korean History in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)

The ministry said the list of committee members will be disclosed after the 47 authors of the government-authored textbooks have finished their work. Only one name has been made public thus far.

“It’s not that we are keeping the list a secret. We will reveal it later on,” said a ministry official.

It has been customary for authors of the current privately published history textbooks for secondary education to be revealed after the government approves them for use.

But the government’s refusal to disclose details of the review committee members and authors appears to be in stark contrast to Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea’s initial promise to keep the entire publication process transparent when he first announced the state-issued textbook policy in October.

South Korea in early November confirmed its policy to reinstate the government-issued textbook system for secondary education, saying that most of the privately published textbooks were biased in favor of leftists. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn announced the current system “had failed.”

Pledging transparency, Education Minister Hwang had touted the policy as part of the ministry’s efforts to ensure the state textbooks would not go down the same path as the “failed” private textbooks.

The apparent secrecy over the review committee has piled on an ongoing controversy over the flip-flop by Kim Jung-bae, the head of the National Institute of Korean History, about not disclosing the names of the textbook authors.

With the Education Ministry just finalizing the composition of the review committee, the criteria for content ― which was initially planned to be announced Monday ― was indefinitely put off.

A ministry official said while he cannot set a specific date for the announcement, it is likely to be around mid-December.

Another reason for the delay, according to the NIKH, is the review of hotly disputed points surrounding the state textbooks, one of those being when South Korea was founded.

President Park Geun-hye, who avidly initiated and supported the state publication of textbooks, criticized the current textbooks for stating the “South Korean government,” not the state, was founded in 1948. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn claimed the description makes it sound as if “a government body was established that year,” not the state of South Korea.

But the claims by the president run counter to the Korean Constitution, which pushes back the foundation of the state further, saying the current government inherits the tradition of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea established in 1919.

Rep. Jeong Jin-hoo of the minor Justice Party recently pointed out that even the NIKH itself ― whose chief Kim Jung-bae said that the “state of South Korea” was founded in 1948” ― stipulated that 1948 was the year the “South Korean government” was established in the state-run Korean history certification exam.

The date of the foundation of South Korea is considered a crucial and sensitive point regarding how to acknowledge the activities of former independence fighters against Japan’s colonial rule.

A local scholar who participated in the research for the 2015 curriculum revision ― which will be used for setting the criteria for the new textbook ― accused the government of revising his report without his knowledge to keep it in line with the president’s historical point of view.

“The NIKH suggested I should change my report to ‘South Korea was founded’ instead of ‘the South Korean government,’ since the ministry was about to announce the revision,” said Kang Seok-hwa, a professor of social studies education from Gyeongin National University of Education “I said no, and my final version on Nov. 17 clearly said it was ‘the government.’ But when I saw the confirmed version on Friday, it said ‘South Korea was founded.’”

Kwang has asked the NIKH to exclude his name from the report, saying he wanted nothing to do with it, but the institute remained mum on his request as of Monday.

“The report says that ‘this is the opinion of the cited researcher,’ but that’s not my opinion at all,” he said.

Park has emphasized the necessity of state textbooks to “normalize history education,” and recently said that failure to learn history “in a correct way” can cause one’s soul “to become abnormal.”

By Yoon Min-sik
Korea Herald Youtube