The Unification Education Front

Jaesung Ryu (East Asia Institute)
October 26, 2011 6:15 AM

Recently, the Washington Post reported on how the younger South Korean generation is increasingly being disaffected by the idea of national unification, and how the Ministry of Unification (MOU) has been trying to fight against this trend. This led us to poke into what the MOU is doing, and we found that they are not only involved in PR campaigns for raising awareness, but also in the designing of school curriculum for the country’s elementary-, middle- and high-school kids.

According to the Unification Education Support Act, the MOU minister is responsible for establishing a basic education plan for unification, consulting with other agency heads and experts as necessary. Following MOU directives for unification education, the Education Center for Unification, a government agency directly under the MOU, develops the details of the curriculum and works with provincial and metropolitan education offices—agencies under the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MEST) —to implement them at the school level.

Putting aside the odd institutional and legal set-up—a kind of quasi-foreign ministry dictating school curriculum—what is the substance of the policy? According to the MOU agency, the purpose of unification education is to “foster values and attitudes that are necessary to achieve unification, which is based on the creeds of free democracy, the sense of a common Korean community, and a sound understanding of national security.” Under this broad umbrella, the current policy aims “to raise awareness on the importance of having a unified Korean peninsula among Koreans and to let them recognize that it is the path towards a greater Republic of Korea in the future.” The three pillars that serve this goal are: 1) a future-oriented perspective on unification, 2) a balanced perspective on North Korea, and 3) a healthy perspective on national security.

A crucial issue, of course, is whether this civic education has any effect, and the answer provided by the Washington Post story appears to be “no.” But the deeper question is whether the MOU should be in this business at all. Every democracy has its textbook controversies and fights, but it seems that the most appropriate role for government would be to provide information on the competing perspectives on unification and the North and try to coax students to form their own judgments rather than trying to force-feed a government line.

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