ROK Drop

Avatar of GI KoreaBy on December 28th, 2006 at 8:40 am

Korean Students Fail National History Tests

I have always found it amazing how ignorant many Koreans are about their own history and the results of this test seem to only confirm this:

More than half the candidates who sat the first Korean history proficiency test by the National Institute of Korean History on Nov. 25 failed. The NIKH said Wednesday that 48.37 percent of 15,395 applicants passed the test. By level, 45.71 percent of applicants passed the high-school history education equivalent level, 31.73 percent passed the middle school test, and 85.04 percent and 72.94 percent the two elementary-grade papers. In other words, while most candidates at elementary level passed, candidates at middle school level proved particularly poor.

The Japanese colonial period is often used to condemn the Japanese, however according to this test many of the Korean students don’t even accurately understand the Japanese colonial period:

Candidates were most embarrassed by questions about Japanese colonial rule. Experts say this is because some school history classes sometimes don’t cover the era, which is in the latter part of the standard textbooks, due to time restraints. Many applicants also gave wrong answers to questions about the ancient Koguryo and Barhae kingdoms, which China has been trying to co-opt as part of its history by way of the so-called Northeast Project. This suggests Korea has tackled attempts at historical distortion by Japan and China with more rhetoric than substance.

I guess I should give these students a break because maybe they didn’t understand which answers to give on this test because you have real history and than you have the revised history of the Korean government that revises unpleasant aspects of Korean history such as Korean war criminals during World War II.  Does the student answer the actual number or the revised number only accepted by the Korean government?  Actually I would be impressed if the students even knew Korea had war criminals during World War II to begin with.  Just think if they asked a question about who was responsible for the Gwangju Uprising how many different answer they would get.  The politicization of Korean history by politicians for their own short term political advantage is what is responsible for so many competing theories of Korean history.  Not to mention the North Korean fifth column interested in rewriting history in order to give a more sympathetic and positive view of North Korea while at the same time exploiting issues in order to drive a wedge between the US and the general Korean public which they have had much success at.  Unfortunately I don’t see this trend changing any time soon.

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  • Jon Allen
    4:29 am on December 29th, 2006 1

    Most school kids couldn't care less about history, even the stuff they have been

    taught and if you have various versions of history it can't be any easier.

    American, English, whatever nationality, there is so much history that you can easily make up a test to prove the children don't know that part of the country's history.

    What's the point?

    Trying to compare statistics with any other country would be impossible, so I'm guessing this is just an excuse to get more money for their little NIKH empire.

    Happy 'Historical' New Year.

  • John B
    5:49 am on December 29th, 2006 2

    It's a little unfair to snipe at Korean history education; I was an honors student in a US public school and I learned nearly nothing about history. Hell, I often misplace the US states. And I got a good grade in my social studies courses.

    History is hard to teach because it's hard to make people care. Most Koreans I met have a much better grasp of their national history than I do.

    Also, the Language Log blog discussed how its easy to cheat the survey results for press.

  • Lirelou
    10:35 am on December 29th, 2006 3

    John B., History is not a hard subject to teach if you love it. I pitch a "how we got here" lecture to various military audiences in Korea, and never fail to get people stopping by after the lecture to ask for recommended books where they can find out more information. And I once served a short tour with a Reservist who taught history in High School. This individual bore a resemblance to T.R. Roosevelt, and would get dressed up as a rough rider, and in various other historical get-up, whenever he hit certain periods of American history. He was also quite dynamic and humorous in his presentations. I would be willing to bet that none of his students slept in class, and that they took a lot out of it. Know your subject, be dynamic in your presentation, and don't waste your students time are three recipes for success in teaching any subject. Unfortunately, history in Korea is meant to be a tool for indoctrination rather than a means of analysis. Thus my co-worker, a MA holder from a prestigious Ivy league college, loaths and despises the Japanese for having, among other things, forced "all Koreans" to change their names to Japanese. He refuses to even consider any evidence that this was not the case.

  • GI Korea
    10:48 pm on December 29th, 2006 4

    I agree that the US students don't know history to well either. Years ago when I told a high school buddy of mine that I was getting stationed in Korea, he told me, "Hey that's great, enjoy the islands!"

    However, like lirelou accurately stated, history in Korea is a means of indoctrination and not a search for understanding what really happened so actual lessons learned from it can be applied in the future.

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