South Korea Education Ministry under fire for history textbook revision plan

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Conservative business group proposed history textbook revisions in April and gov’t followed.


The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is drawing criticism for allegedly trying to become involved in the process of revising history textbooks, after its plans to hold a rare meeting with the textbook editors. The ministry’s plan came about following a strong call from conservative historians and businesses for revisions to middle and high school history textbooks.

The ministry sent an official letter to the publishers of the textbook “A Modern and Contemporary History of Korea” on June 9. The letter said: “A meeting of editors to revise the book ‘A Modern and Contemporary History of Korea’ for the school year 2009 will be held on June 12 at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology,” according to the textbook’s editors. The letter was sent to the six publishing companies that were involved with the book’s publication, including Kumsung Publishing.

“In the area of social studies, there have been editorial meetings to revise terms used in the subjects of geography and world history. But this is the first time that the editors of ‘A Modern and Contemporary History of Korea’ will meet,” one of the publishing company officials said.

Another official from another of the textbook’s publishing companies said, “I haven’t been notified about the meeting agenda, but there is a lingering controversy over a demand made by the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry to revise it. I guess there may be discussions about that as well.”

In April, the KCCI requested that textbook revisions be made and submitted a proposal to the government that expressed the KCCI’s conservative bias. One of the statements contained within the proposal said, “It is doubtful that Korean people would have had the ability to establish their own country prior to the Japanese occupation.” The ministry then asked the publishing companies to consider to what extent they would accept the proposal.

In response, some of the publishing companies said they felt this was a rare request and was becoming a heavy burden to them.

A number of the textbook’s editors also said that the government had shown its willingness to reflect the KCCI’s arguments by acting as a broker (between the publishing companies).

One of the textbook’s editors said, “There is a lot of room for debate within the subject of history, depending on the viewpoint one takes. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s attitude could be considered censorship of a certain historical perspective.”

An official with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said, “The June 12 meeting is not related to the KCCI’s proposal for (textbook) revisions. If there is misunderstanding about it, the ministry will consider canceling the meeting.”

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said, however, “A textbook revision is unavoidable this year because there are many national and social demands to be met. Textbook editors are reviewing the KCCI’s proposal for revisions and will make a decision about which parts will undergo revision by the end of June.”

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