One of the primary arguments against Hanja education asserted by Hangul supremacists is that it will increase onus of studying upon students and will further exacerbate private education commonly known as Hagwons (學院, 학원). As someone who attended many Hagwons while growing up in Korea, I do find this argument worthy of consideration. Upon closer examination, however, there are many signs that such arguments are less than sincere. Take for example an op-ed from the Korean news site OhmyNews from May 6 titled, “The Largest Pro-Hanja Education Association Holds Hands with Private Education” (‘한자병기 주도 최대 조직, 사교육업체와 손잡아), which is emblematic of this type of argument.
Its author warns readers of the supposed danger that money-grubbing (“돈벌이” and “장삿속”) Hanja Hagwons poses upon Korean students. The article begins with an advertisement from one of the largest publishers of Hanja books promoting Hanja lessons for elementary school students. (For the sake of full disclosure, I do have a few books of theirs intended for older audiences on my bookshelf.) The author describes that the lessons cover Chinese classics such as Elementary Learning in Four Characters (四字小學, 사자소학) and Analects of Confucius (論語, 논어) as well as elementary school level Chinese characters. The cost for all of this? The author will lead you to believe that this is a whopping 150,000 won (about $130 USD) for one year. But staring readers right in their face is the article’s introductory image showing the price as 10,000 won. That is less than $10 USD.
If Hangul supremacists were actually genuinely worried about avaricious Hagwons, they would be up in arms over English private education. It is well documented that English private education is a multi-billion dollar industry in Korea. Some of its owners and teachers are millionaires. The average cost of an English Hagwon is over 1,000,000 Won (almost $1,000 USD) per month, 100 times more than that of the advertised Hanja Hagwon highlighted by this op-ed charges per year. There are even ones that go for many more that target even younger ages. Not to mention, for the price, the quality of its teachers do not seem to be that great.
Yet there is only silence over English Hagwons from these Hangul supremacists. In fact, one earlier op-ed from OhmyNews states that it is not worried over English education while attacking Hanja education. In doing so, they seek to vilify old, retired grandpas and grandmas who make up a great proportion of Hanja teachers and many of whom who teach for free — or almost free in the case of the highlighted Hagwon.
Hagwons and the education system in general pose serious challenges for Korea. To exploit them as a bludgeon so lightheartedly against Hanja education as Hangul supremacists do is not only absurd and reckless, but also shows their lack of actual concern over this issue and further underlines their intellectual bankruptcy.