Fri, Jul 11, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Shackled young people need to be freed

By Bob Kuo 郭峰淵

This year and last year were not good for the nation's young students. Amid the controversy over educational reforms, they have been called "victims." Reports in Business Weekly describe students as lazy, inferior to the previous generation and worse than Chinese students. In terms of economic prospects, most of them will face unemployment. When the SARS epidemic was wreaking havoc, they were treated like idiots without any independent thinking ability, as evidenced by the government's cancelation of categories that require thinking in this year's entrance exams.

With the exam results soon to be released, many youths who do not perform well will be tagged as spoiled and unmotivated.

These gloomy descriptions of young people did not come out of the blue, but are a result of tradition. In Chinese culture, "young" is almost an original sin, a synonym for rash, ignorant, undisciplined, bellicose and lascivious. This is why this society has all kinds of restrictions on young people.

For example, Taiwan tops the world with its wide variety of exams. Students are forced to be docile, obedient and to study hard. Otherwise, they will be considered as having given up and placed in classes characterized by poor academic performance.

But the attempt to constrain young people's vigor inside a certain framework only causes those following the rules to become silent and weak. Others who refuse to comply with the structures are subjected to severe punishment.

In contrast, Western culture shows more encouragement for young people. The explosive drive of students is joyous, not sinful. Inability -- or refusal -- to study hard can inspire creativity and not be seen as a gesture of giving up. Courting the opposite sex is not licentious, but a move to enrich their life with love.

Ever since the industrial revolution, this spirit of extolling youth is the real reason why Western countries have made progress and become stronger. They are brave in breaking through traditions, thereby displaying their scientific innovation and inventions and reforming the existing system.

"The only constant in the world is change" has become their motto. Youth is the driving force pushing for change.

Chinese and Western cultures dramatically differ in their perception of youth. China stresses restriction and rebuke; the West emphasizes freedom and encouragement. The parents whose children take this year's entrance exams should understand this wide difference and throw off the shackles that Chinese traditional culture has put on them.

After all, the insufficient creativity is where Taiwan lags behind advanced Western countries. Cultivating creativity requires freedom and encouragement, not restriction and rebuke. Taiwan must establish a culture which is positive and encouraging and shows more tolerance toward young people.

This way, Taiwanese people will not be Chinese people any more. Our youth will have the confidence and ability to challenge the advanced technology and globalized economy in the 21th century.

Bob Kuo is a professor of information systems at National Sun Yat-sen University.

Translated by Jackie Lin

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