South Korea's call for nationalized textbooks divides country

Park Geun-hye's policy would replace current textbooks from eight publishers with a government-issued text.
By Elizabeth Shim  |  Oct. 14, 2015 at 9:46 AM
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SEOUL, Oct. 14 (UPI) -- Opinion remains evenly divided in South Korea after President Park Geun-hye issued an order to nationalize history textbooks used in secondary schools.

Park's policy would replace current textbooks from eight publishers with a government-issued text. Voice of America reported the move comes after conservative lobbyists had complained the texts in use were ideologically biased and not critical enough of the North Korean regime.

"History education should not divide the citizens and students over political strife and ideological conflicts," Park had said before leaving for her official visit to the United States.

The new series of publications would be issued under the title "The Correct Textbook of History" and are to be issued in 2017.

A panel of government-appointed historians would write the books, but many South Korean academics and university students have staged protests and said they would not participate.

On Wednesday, Yonhap reported nine history professors at Kyung Hee University signed a petition calling the presidential directive a sign of the "degeneration of the times," and "an attempt to return to the Yushin period," a reference to the authoritarian military dictatorship of Park Chung Hee, Park's father.

Students and teachers at Korea University made similar remarks in their statement against a policy that would "shake the democratic constitutional order" of South Korea, adding that a rush to produce new textbooks in less than a year would create poor quality texts. At Yonsei University, 13 history professors said they would boycott the textbooks.

Public opinion remains equally divided regarding the new textbook policy. South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo reported a poll published on Wednesday indicated 47.6 percent of those surveyed said they were in favor of the nationalization of textbooks, while 44.7 percent said they were opposed. Younger South Koreans in their 20s and 30s showed greater opposition to Park's policy than respondents in their 50s and 60s.

South Korean newspaper Seoul Shinmun reported Park's administration is to create a National History Compilation Committee by Dec. 5.

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