Tue, Jul 29, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Not making the grade in English

By Chang Sheng-en 張聖恩

The scores of high-school graduates who took this year's college-entrance examinations were recently announced. For the subject of English, the largest portion of all test-takers' average scores fell between 10 and 20 points, and hundreds of students received zero. Such a poor performance shows that the English-language abilities of our students have seriously and consistently declined -- a fact which deserves the full attention of the authorities.

According to the College Entrance Examination Center's (大考中心) statistics, of the 119,785 students who took the test, over 7,900 received a score of higher than 80 in English but as many as 32,000 received a score of lower than 20. That means about one-third of the students are poor in English.

This should serve as a warning sign for English-language education. Once students enter college -- apart from taking the required GE (general education) English course in their freshman year -- their chances to learn English are limited. Due to insufficient practice, the English ability of many college students is even worse than that of high-school students. Hence, students' basic English-language education is crucial to their overall English ability.

To improve these problems, I believe that we can begin from the following aspects.

First, in terms of curriculum design, the integration of the education systems is chaotic. Ever since the Ministry of Education de-standardized elementary and junior-high textbooks in 1996, its book evaluation has been repeatedly criticized. Since the quality of private textbook publishers is uneven, some of the books are extremely difficult -- with inappropriate content that is seldom used in daily life. As a result, many of our students quickly lose interest in learning English.

To improve this, a professional and systematic curricula that advances in proper sequence is absolutely necessary. The ministry should also evaluate textbooks thoroughly.

Second, in terms of teaching methods, it's urgent for the ministry to provide teacher training in rural areas to narrow the gap in language education between urban and rural areas. Again, if you look at the results of the college-entrance exams, over half of the graduates from Taipei Municipal First Girls' Senior High School have a score of higher than 80 in English. This clearly shows the English-proficiency gap between students in urban and rural areas.

The ministry should try to assist those schools with limited resources. It could conduct English-teaching workshops regularly in rural areas to promote effective teaching methods and boost teachers' confidence.

Although today's standard "mixed-grouping system" (常態分班) for class division is well-intentioned, it seems unrealistic. When students are placed together without regard for the differing levels of their English skills, both teachers and students suffer greatly. As a consequence, those who cannot catch up with the others can only seek help from private language schools. For those who cannot afford to attend such schools, they have no choice but to give up English altogether. In light of this situation, the traditional "ability-grouping system" (能力分班) does have its advantages for English-language education.

Third, in terms of motivation, as the Education Reconstruction Front's (重建教育連線) recent 10,000-word petition states, "The joy of learning comes from the improvement and fulfillment of oneself." It should be the government's priority to create a diversified learning environment that allows each and every student to give full play to his or her ability.

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