Controversial history text roils schools in S Korea

SOUTH KOREA - Conflicts escalated over a controversial history textbook on Friday as a string of schools withdrew their decision to select the book amid fierce opposition from students and parents.

Bundang Youngduk Girls' High School said it overturned its earlier decision to use the textbook from Kyohak Publishing Co., which had come under fire for supposedly containing wording that was in favour of Japanese colonialism and the junta dictatorship.

Earlier in the week, it was reported that 15 of some 800 high schools nationwide had selected the controversial textbook. The move caused uproar among students and parents of the cited schools, and even some of their staff members.

Gong Gi-taek, a history teacher at Dongwoo Girls' High School, said on Thursday via Facebook that teachers had been pressured to select the Kyohak book.

"There were a series of requests (to choose Kyohak's book) from the principal who clearly was under pressure from someone else," he said. The school refused to comment on his claim, but announced on the following day that it would not be using the controversial book for its history curriculum.

Changmun Girls' High School, which was initially rumored to have adopted Kyohak's book, denied the report and said it has decided to use a textbook by Jihak Publishing Co.

Other than Changmun, eight of 14 schools that originally selected the book opted against it as of Friday afternoon. As a result, no schools in Seoul or Gyeonggi Province will use the textbook in the 2014 school year.

Kyohak's textbook, one of eight Korean history textbooks approved in August by the National Institute of Korean History, was heavily criticised by historians and lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic Party, who claimed it contained incorrect information. They said that the book had misleading content about issues such as Japan's colonisation of Korea, comfort women and the May 15, 1961, military coup that brought then-Major Gen. Park Chung-hee to power.

Although the Education Ministry in November ordered 829 instances of revision and supplementation for all eight textbooks, DP lawmakers argued that even the revised version of Kyohak's textbook had faulty content.

The textbook still said the comfort women "followed Japanese troops around" during World War II, although historical records and testimonies indicated that they were forcibly dragged around and coerced into sexual slavery.

Last month, nine former comfort women sought an injunction to ban the history books from being used in classes. "Kyohak's textbook is distorting the history of Korea's liberation while justifying the Japanese invasion," they said in a statement filed with Seoul Western District Court.