Wed, Dec 17, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Maximizing after-school programs

By Sung Yao-ting 宋曜廷

Recent reports in the media said that some city and county governments intended to appropriate education budgets to purchase textbooks for elementary school students or provide free after-school programs. These plans have caused much debate.

Parts of municipal and county education budgets have long been used for non-educational purposes and this has led to criticism that implementation rates for education budgets are too low. Local governments’ plan to use these budgets for after-school programs means they would be spending the money in an appropriate manner.

What deserves our attention, however, is that different after-school programs may yield widely opposite results. Education authorities should therefore act with caution. For example, if the programs are merely used to prepare students for entrance exams, the benefits may be limited to certain students, while also encouraging public schools to organize similar programs.

However, if schools can design curriculums based on the individual needs of students, academic performance could increase and students would have more opportunities to explore different topics. Such programs could also offer a clean break from passive childcare.

After-school programs can offer remedial instruction to poorly performing students. In light of the wide performance gap among Taiwanese students, remedial instruction is necessary. Results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2006 organized by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development showed that the mathematics competency of 15-year-old Taiwanese was excellent. But the standard deviation of their average scores was the highest among the top 10 countries. Finland’s youngsters also ranked at the top, but standard deviation there was the lowest.

The results of the Basic Competence Test for Junior High School Students also show a similar tendency. More poorly performing students might have encountered difficulties already in elementary school, but they are unable to receive appropriate counseling and assistance because of fixed curriculums and limited manpower. As a result, their learning constantly declines and the gap widens.

Remedial instruction is most important and effective in primary education and will be more difficult to achieve if only picked up in junior or senior high school.

Average and successful students could also use the programs to explore their aptitudes and develop new fields of interest. Promotionism, a phenomenon all too frequent in Taiwan’s high-pressure school environment, involves students seeking advancement to higher levels of education without regard to personal interests or quality of learning, which causes most students to only care about school work and devote most of their time studying for tests. They therefore seldom have a chance to explore other subjects.

The phenomenon is more obvious when junior high school graduates enter either senior or vocational high schools, as they will be studying in different departments or fields. Are they aware of their own interests? Is it better for them to go to a senior or a vocational high school? In what fields can they make best use of their talent?

Without exploration and consideration beforehand, they will be at a loss about what to do and teachers will hardly be able to advise them. Students are often likely to consider these things only in the last few weeks before making their choices and pressure may cause them to make rash decisions. This lack of understanding of their own aptitude and the resulting passive choice of future direction will in turn affect their career development.

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