Sun, Aug 12, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Quality, not quantity, is crucial for education

By Lee Chia-tung 李家同

The results of this year's college entrance examination were extremely troubling. The lowest score obtained by a student accepted to a university was a mere 18.7 points, or about three points per subject.

Some people have hinted that schools which take in the worst students are run poorly. This is not a question of ineffective school administration. With so many new college students, some schools would still accept very poor students even if they were run exceptionally well. The fact that students with such low marks can get accepted is purely a matter of an oversupply of universities.

It was once the government's policy to promote the establishment of new universities and high schools. To start a school required approval from the Ministry of Education, which knew how many high school graduates there were. It knew that one day everyone would be able to attend university, and that even if the schools accepted all students, eventually there would still not be enough to fill the schools.

The ministry should take full responsibility for this oversupply because it encouraged the establishment of private schools. It cannot start talking about an "exit mechanism" to reduce the number of universities after telling everyone to get in. Those schools should not have been established in the first place.

Why are there so many poor-performing high school students? This also stems from an oversupply of high schools. One county, for instance, has a quota of 8,800 high school and vocational school places, but only 4,600 graduating junior high school students this year. In this county, anyone can go to high school or a vocational high school. In some of these schools, the highest score on the basic competence test is just 110, while the lowest is 50. Some universities will probably still take these students after graduation.

It's important to note that poorly performing high school students are not necessarily the fault of the high school. These students may not have studied hard in junior high school, which in turn may be because they had problems in elementary school.

I don't know why the government does not emphasize educational quality control. Severely underperforming primary school students still receive their diplomas, allowing them to go directly to junior high school where it is too late for teachers to help them. The most fundamental way to develop decent high school students is to oversee them rigorously in elementary school.

We do not have to set high thresholds that only result in primary school students scoring low, but students should at least be able to do basic arithmetic when they finish primary school, while more advanced problems could wait until junior high school. If we discover that students perform poorly, they should be given extra help as soon as possible.

If we implement quality control in primary school and junior high school, high school students would perform better and universities would not have to worry so much about bad students.

However, there are still too many universities. With an aging population, many will not be able to keep operating in the future. The government does not need to talk about an "exit mechanism," as many schools will have to close themselves. Deciding how to use school facilities should not be the most difficult problem. A more serious issue will be the large number of unemployed teachers.

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