By Nam Hyun-woo
Korean history has retained a required subject status in the college entrance exam for the first time in more than two decades.
From 2017, every college applicant should take a Korean history test during the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), a prerequisite for more Korean history classes at secondary schools.
However, experts are concerned that it would ignite ideological conflicts among conservatives and liberals about the educative content.
"There will be constant controversy over how historical events should be interpreted. As people have a wider range of ideological spectrum, liberals may say schools are teaching right-leaning history, while conservatives say the opposite," an official at the National Institute of Korean History said.
"Therefore, a fair textbook verification is very important. Making the history test a vehicle to educate students that there can be various perspectives on historical incidents is homework for us," she added.
The Ministry of Education announced Tuesday it will include the subject in the CSAT that all collegian hopefuls are required to take.
Its decision follows the government and the ruling Saenuri Party's recent agreement to strengthen history education amid growing concerns that young students know very little of history.
History was a compulsory subject from 1973 to 1993, for national tests for college entrance. However, as the country adopted the annual CSAT in 1994, history became a part of the social studies section of the test and was incorporated into one of the 11 optional subjects of the CSAT in 2005.
Korean history is a required course in the country's high school curricula, but it has steadily lost its appeal to students since they don't need to take the classes except those candidates interested in enrolling in history-requiring colleges. Only a handful of universities, including Seoul National University, required students to take the subject.
"As the subject becomes a required subject on the CSAT, I think history teachers will have a smaller leeway to present their ideological ideas to students because they have to focus on teaching facts objectively rather than educating students with subjective interpretation," said Prof. Yang Joung-hyun at Pusan University's History Education Department.
Some teachers expressed concerns about the history class becoming too standardized lacking originality of interpretation of historical events.
"The compulsory test may deprive students of their chance to interpret with their own perspective because there always is a fixed answer to the test. Compulsory history test may forcibly inject to students with what the country wants students to learn," said a history teacher in Seoul, surnamed Cho.
Meanwhile, the parents of students who will take the 2017 CSAT voiced concerns that it will be an additional burden to their children.
"My son will have to take additional cram school courses or private tutoring. Understanding our country's history is essential, but it is true that making history a required subject of CSAT burdens students and parents too," said Baek Kyeong-hee, the mom of a middle school third-grader Choi Han-bit.