[EDITORIALS]Bring back Chinese charactersSeoul National University tested the Chinese-character comprehension ability of students who are taking Korean language classes there. More than 60 percent of the students scored less than 50 percent on that test. Asked to answer test questions with hanja, or Chinese characters, more than half the students responded with Korean script because they could not read the Chinese characters in the questions.
Large numbers of freshmen at Korea’s leading university wrote the term for “department” in Chinese characters as “school.” Our younger generation’s Chinese character comprehension has gone down dramatically.
Students supposedly learn 1,800 Chinese characters during their middle and high school days. If they do learn them, they can read and write Chinese characters in Korean-language textbooks without problems. If they cannot, it is primarily the result of a lack of attention and hard work by the students.
But we can also find reasons for the problem in the poor Chinese-character curriculum of middle schools and in poor teaching methods. But the biggest reason is that students are not tested in hanja on the national university entrance examination. Korean students are no fools, so they don’t worry about studying hanja in earnest. Secondary school teachers cooperate as well, by asking easy questions on routine examinations. This reflects the reality of our education, where the focus is on passing the university entrance examination.
Because we belong to a culture that uses Chinese characters, we cannot enjoy our cultural life in full if we don’t understand them. In addition to being blocked from the wisdom of ancient sages, it is difficult for graduates to work in offices without knowing Chinese characters. As economic exchanges across Northeast Asia increase, the importance of Chinese characters is growing.
Five leading business organizations now include a hanja test in their examination of new recruits. They have recommended that their members do so as well. The shortcut to improving students’ ability in this area is to include it in the entrance examinations. When students learn Chinese characters and use them correctly, Korean language and literature will be developed further.