Hanawon Education for the Defectors Need to be Reformed

“We came to South Korea in search for freedom, it is difficult to adjust”

Tear rolls down from her eyes as the defector woman describes her life in South Korea. Kim Chun Ok, who defected to South Korea in 2002 after living hiding for three years in China describes her life in South Korea, “each day is like walking on a thorn field.”

Most of the North Korean defectors seem to have been unable to adjust to eh South Korean society. Although the number of defectors coming into South Korea is increasing every year, the task of their resettlement is a multifaceted obstacle.

Up to July of this year, the number of North Koreans in South Korea reached 6,500. 80% of them are considered as the receivers of the basic living assistant, thus the government takes care of them. Among them, 50% suffer from depression and employment rate only around 30%.

Conservative Closed Education to be changed to Liberal and Open Education

The defectors are investigated (interrogated) once they come into South Korea, then receive resettlement education at Hanawon, a government organ for the education of the defectors. In the three months training, it is clear that the defectors cannot overcome the half century long separation. Completely closed and segregated environment and control in Hanawon adds to the unstable psychological state of the defectors.

Improvement is also needed in the education program. The defectors who have received Hanawon training and the experts unanimously say what is more needed is practical reality training, which will help the defectors of the resettlement at the actual level. Many also point out it is necessary to increase time for education of understanding market economy and law. It is said that there are only few defectors who was not deceived of fraud.

A defector who recently finished his training in Hnawon says, “Not only is the defectors’ psychological state unstable due to the long hiding out in China, the closed environment negatively affects the defectors who receive the training.”

▲ Defectors reading newspapers in Hanawon

▲ Defectors participated in job placement exhibition for North Korean defectors in 2003

Byun Kwang Young, excutive director of Yangcheon breanch, Citizen’s Coalition for Open Society’, who works at Hanawon as a volunteer, says, “Although control in the beginning of their entrance is inevitable due to the security problem, later trainings must be more liberal.”

He suggests defectors’ participation in the resettlement program conducted by civil groups and internships at small enterprises as options for liberal education, and emphasized the importance of creating comforting environment at Hanawon and better psychological counseling program.

Job Training Urgent

One of the most difficult task the defectors face is understanding market economy. For this reason, for the good training of the defectors, providence of job information and intensive education is a requirement.

Hanawon curriculum includes, psychological stability (48hrs), Understanding of the Society and Easing the Culture Difference (118hrs), Site Visiting (92hrs), Deciding Work – Basic Work Training (114hrs) and Initial Resettlement Assistance, which add up to total of 434 hours.

Deciding Work – Basic Work Training is only 114hours, which is only 26% of the entire education program, which is much less than the defectors actually need. Although with much criticisms the number of hours is increasing, but it is still much lower than the actually needed amount.

Kim Eun Chul, a defector who currently work at a small enterprise says, “defectors’ utmost interest is how to make a living, and because they feel the burden to adjust as soon as possible in the society, education at the work sites is much more important.”

Byun, who is volunteering at Hanawon for two years now, points out, “a constant government interest is a requirement for the resettlement of the defectors. Although the government is currently encouraging local social assistance offices for the assistance of the defectors, but there is no department in the offices dealing with the problems of the defectors.”

He urged for a mutual relationship between the government and the civil groups in regards to the defectors’ resettlement.