Hanja doesn’t harm Korean educationI recently read an opinion piece, titled “Hanja harms Korean education,” on your Saturday debate series. This op-ed has some factual inaccuracies.
For one, Hangul-only writing is a legacy of the military dictatorship of Korea and was forcibly imposed by Park Chung Hee with the commencement of the “Hangul-Only 5 Year” Campaign in 1968. Prior to that era, Hangul-only writing was not considered an expression of Korean identity. Ahn Jung-geun, a Korean activist for independence, even wrote a poem in Hanja on the day before assassinating Ito Hirobumi.
Furthermore, it is not a “pitiful excuse” to start Hanja education early. Neurological studies indicate that the best age to learn Hanja is between 5 and 10 years old. That’s science. These wild accusations of Japanophilia exhibit insecurity, not a sense of pride in Korean culture, history and literature.
Also, the claim that “to finish high school, Chinese and Japanese students must learn all the words they will need to get through normal adult life” is not entirely true. The literacy rates of Korea, Japan and Taiwan are all above 97 percent. In Korean newspapers, there are plenty of articles criticizing schools for failing to equip Koreans with the language skills necessary for successful employment. In fact, according to the 2005 OECD survey, Korean adults had the highest rates of functional illiteracy.
As someone who has studied this area a fair amount on my spare time, I can assure you that Hanja does not harm Korean education, and in fact promotes it.
By Kuiwon, American citizen of Korean descent