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Education minister’s comments add fuel to textbook dispute

Controversy over the reintroduction of state-authored history textbooks further escalated Wednesday upon reports that Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea told presidents of universities that the nationwide student protests in the past prohibited the government from investing in history education.

“Hwang said that even though history is the most important subject, students of history related majors have conducted numerous protests in the past so the universities didn’t pay too much attention to the history lessons,” a local university head, who had attended a luncheon with some 20 university presidents hosted by Hwang the day before, was quoted as saying.

“He said this was the main reason history education in Korea has so many problems,” the unnamed educator said.

It is unclear which demonstrations the minister was referring to, although South Korea had massive student pro-democracy protests until the early 1990s.

The ministry on Wednesday denied the report. The previous evening, it explained that Hwang’s comments were in line with his emphasis on the importance of investing in history education.

“The comments were the personal opinion of one university chief. The quote in the article does not even fit the context,” the ministry said.

Hwang, who doubles as a lawmaker for the ruling Saenuri Party, has been the front man of the administration’s push to take back publishing rights for secondary school history textbooks from private publishers. Last week, the Education Ministry announced the revival of state-authored history textbooks because current textbooks are left-leaning.

Progressive educators, students and the opposition parties responded with protests and statements decrying the decision. Professors from at least 35 universities across the country have announced their intent not to participate in the state history textbooks as of Wednesday. 

By Yoon Min-sik