Taiwan: Education must get back to basics

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jan 24 14:24:14 UTC 2008

Education must get back to basics

By Prudence Chou

Thursday, Jan 24, 2008, Page 8

FOR A LONG TIME Taiwan's education has had to give way to economic and
political concerns and the voices of students and teachers have been
drowned out by electoral fervor. In particular, the conflict between
the Ministry of Education and the Taipei City Government over the
removal of the inscription dazhong zhizheng (大中至正) on the gate leading
to the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall received a great deal
of media attention. It is regretful that officials traded accusations
and resorted to offensive language over something that could have been
resolved through rational communication.

Meanwhile, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
announced that 15-year-old Taiwanese high school students
participating in the Program for International Student Assessment
(PISA) scored first in mathematics and fourth in science. However, the
Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2006 by the
International Association for the Evaluation of Educational
Achievement showed that Taiwanese students' reading performance was
quite unsatisfactory and that many elementary and junior-high school
students don't read extracurricular books.

This important piece of news was unfortunately almost ignored because
of the heated debate over the removal of the inscription. Hong Kong,
Japan and Macau readily responded to the results by drawing up new
policies to improve their educational systems. In contrast, Taiwan's
education officials hailed the test results as a reflection of the
success of the nation's educational reform, but failed to provide the
statistics to back up their claims, such as telling the general public
why students perform well in mathematics and science, if there are any
gender-related differences or differences between urban and rural
areas or if the educational background of parents have an effect. They
also failed to explain why the results were so good when many students
don't like math or science classes, or why so many students don't like
to read.

The government should end conflict and return to educational
fundamentals. Only then can the necessary attention and priority be
given to problems such as the fact that more than 100 elementary and
junior-high schools do not have access to running water and students
missed school because bus operations in the south were suspended.

We also hope the government will accomplish five things:

First, review the 10-year educational reform in order to improve
educational quality. The government should use the results in these
international competitions to review educational reform over the past
dozen years. The review should place equal importance on educational
quality and efficacy. It should also work to achieve fairness and
justness, implement regular evaluations and base educational reform on
objective and quantifiable information.

The government should also strengthen the scientific system for
educational statistics, make it available online and improve studies
of these statistics, all in a bilingual Chinese and English format to
enhance information transparency.

Also, given Taiwan's diplomatic isolation, non-governmental and
governmental organizations should take the initiative to provide
educational information to major international organizations and
participate in international educational assessments to help
strengthen Taiwan's integration into the international community and
provide further benchmarks for national competitiveness.

Second, a review of educational policies that have been frequently
criticized in recent years is urgently needed, including the increased
burden on students resulting from the policy of providing several
different books for one curriculum, the confusion among elementary
school students who must learn three languages -- Chinese, their
native language and English -- at the same time. Other issues that
should be reviewed are the function and role of the basic competence
test for junior-high school students, permanent classes and division
into groups according to ability. The government should also pay
attention to the educational quality following the influx of high
schools and universities in recent years, teacher training, the
allocation and effective use of central and local educational budgets,
and the qualifications and expertise of education heads.

Third, a permanent education development committee should be
established. The Cabinet's ad hoc Educational Reform Evaluation
Committee was set up in 1994 as a temporary unit. It was dissolved two
years later and policy planning was also discontinued. The Cabinet
should review the difference in policies of the authorities in charge
of planning and implementing educational reform over the past decade.
It should also learn from Japan's educational evaluation committee and
push legislation to establish a permanent education development
committee to plan for, initiate and evaluate future reforms. Committee
members should be experienced educators whose educational ideals
transcend politics. They should include execution, management and
evaluation in their policy-making and provide follow-up adjustments to
guarantee that the educational vision and goals are reached.

Fourth, establish a mechanism for monitoring the improvement of
education quality. Current methods of evaluating schools should be
improved. For example, in the past everyone was held to the same
standard. This should be changed and officials should try to
understand how effectively a school improves student results from
enrollment until graduation, instead of only looking at the ratio of
graduates going on to study at prestigious educational institutions.

Support for student learning should be strengthened, for example, by
dividing students into groups according to their field of study -- and
provide more resources to economically disadvantaged students, as well
as tutoring according to student needs.

More attention should be paid to on student character and labor
education and more opportunities for learning outside the classroom
should be provided. Parents and teachers should start campaigns to
promote community concern and encourage students to attend
service-oriented groups in schools or communities.

Fifth, sustainable development should be emphasized and existing
educational advantages promoted. At a time when Taiwan is striving to
promote economic development, we should also give future generations a
chance for sustainable development.

Politicians, teachers and parents should be conscious of the impact of
their actions on the next generation. They should also review the
appropriateness of the current electoral system and try to restore
past mainstream values -- diligence, humility, honesty, hospitality
and thrift. They should also strive to improve awareness, apply proper
restrictions on media and political parties and pay attention to the
sustainable development of the natural and social environment.

We should promote the advantages in Taiwan's society, such as parents'
emphasis on education for their children, traditional respect for
teachers, a well-developed Internet, the flexibility in people's
thinking and the potential of becoming a model for combining
traditional Chinese and modern Western culture. Our education system
should integrate geographic features, such as Taiwan's 1,240km
coastline and proximity to China, and make greater use of our natural
resources and outstanding farming and fishery industries.

In addition, we should emphasize the reconstruction and innovation of
educational values, and give full play to the characteristics of East
Asian education, turning competition for admission to higher education
into a positive aspect.

Finally, we should also stress Taiwan's advantages and culture to
improve interest in studying and diversity, and thus build Taiwanese

Prudence Chou is a professor of education at National Chengchi University.


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