Several educational and civic groups in South Korea held news conferences and rallies Tuesday to denounce the government decision to reintroduce state-published history textbooks for secondary school students.
After months of controversy, the government announced that it will be in charge of publishing history textbooks for middle and high school students again, starting in the 2017 school year, to address what the government calls predominantly left-leaning content in the current books.
The textbooks are published by eight private publishing companies pending government approval, while primary schools have a single set of national history textbooks.
The Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, a progressive union of teachers, defined the decision as a “coup d’etat” in history in a statement.
“The authorities advanced the announcement by two days, scared by the public opinion against the plan,” the statement said, vowing to continue the battle to nullify the decision.
Other liberal civic groups, including the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice, also released statements criticizing the decision.
An association of the descendants of independence fighters during the 1910-45 Japanese colonial ruling, for instance, said it is an attempt to instill a historical viewpoint that suits the taste of those holding power.
Professors from Daegu University, on the other hand, held a press conference supporting the government in central Seoul.
“It is an important duty of the older generation to teach an accurate view of history to our children,” they said in a statement read during the conference.
For the past 20 days, the Education Ministry has collected public opinion on the plan based on the law that the government must give such notice in advance on policy changes.
Among some 470,000 people who submitted opinions during the period, the number of those who are opposed to the plan accounted for about 320,000, more than double those who are in agreement, according to the ministry.
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn dismissed lingering concerns that the government’s move could result in possible distortion of history textbooks on such issues as the country’s past authoritarian governments.
The ministry will announce details of the publication and the identities of the writers on Wednesday, Hwang said.
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