[VIEWPOINT]Market hangul internationallyIt is estimated that Koreans will spend over 10 trillion won ($9.9 billion) for education and training overseas this year. Compared to the approximately 28 trillion won that the government allocated to the education sector this year, we can see how large the amount spent overseas is. This is not a problem that can be solved by appealing to people’s patriotism by asking them to refrain from going abroad for study or training purposes because it drains our national wealth.
If education is counted as an industry, Korea has the biggest education export deficit among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The United States makes a profit of $10.3 billion annually through education for international students and Australia also makes a profit of over $2.2 billion a year. However, the reality in Korea is that 22 Korean students go abroad for each foreign student that comes into the country, so a deficit is inevitable. In such a reality, we are far from making our education sector profitable unless the flow of students reverses. There will be no problem if we can induce a larger number of overseas students, even if a large number of our students continue to go abroad for further studies. However, we have neglected to make such preparations.
We have the experience of planting trees on our barren mountains, that were devastated by bombing during the Korean War, and caring for them until the mountains again turned green. I wonder what it would be like if we planted a tree called hangul, the Korean alphabet, on the barren land of our education export market. Currently there are around 6,500 languages across the globe, and 6,100 of these do not have scripts. It is said that one language disappears every two weeks, so, if it continues at this rate, around 3,000 to 4,000 languages will be gone by the year 2100.
Under such circumstances, I think that the future of Korea’s education export market is bright. It is time for us to take the long-term view of utilizing hangul and our writing culture as assets for marketing our education overseas. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) nominated hangul to its Memory of the World Register in October, 1997. Hangul are phonetic symbols similar to Roman letters but have standard pronunciations for each symbol, while Roman letters in English have different pronunciations for different spellings. It is therefore easy to mix letters to write new words. Hangul also has the advantage of being easy to learn and can be learned faster than other scripts. There was a time our ancestors looked down on the Korean alphabet, saying it was so easy to learn, even women could learn easily.
The reason hangul is easy to learn and scientific to use, is because it can mix 10 vowels and 14 consonants freely. The Korean alphabet is useful because it can record more than 90 percent of all kinds of languages. Many foreign scholars also acknowledge the superiority of hangul. In the case of the United States where phonetic symbols ― Roman letters ― are in use, only 79 percent of its population is literate, whereas Korea has a phenomenal zero-percent illiteracy rate thanks to its easy and simple writing system. Pearl Buck, who won a Nobel price for literature, said hangul was the easiest, simplest and best text in the world, and British linguist Jeffrey Samson categorized the Korean script as a new type of feature system.
However, as depicted in the novel “Evergreen Tree” by Shim Hoon, we have a sad history of having lost our speech and text: “Young-shin opened the windows wide. And she took down the blackboard with the other youngsters, rested it on the window ledge and wrote in big letters. ‘Come to school, anyone. You can do anything, if you learn how to read and write!’” This illustrates what a spirit-awakening and precious business it is to export a writing system to people who earnestly want a script to transcribe their language. The government has to expand the budget for teaching hangul to people in countries that do not have their own scripts. This is a definite investment for the future of our education export market. I think it would be good if the Korea International Cooperation Agency played a leading role. Naturally, people who learn hangul in the future will want to come to Korea, and when these people start coming to Korea for further studies, our education exports will grow.
The power of hangul has begun to grow explosively at the turn of the 21st century, because the Korean alphabet goes so well with the codes of the digital system. The efficiency of hangul in a digital system is more than 7 times faster and more efficient than Japanese or Chinese. Exporting hangul is a business for coexistence and a definite investment.
* The writer is a professor at Sungkyul University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jung Jong-ki