Thu, Jul 15, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Schooling must adapt to the times

By Tsai Bih-hwang 蔡璧煌

The past few days have been exceedingly hot. All over Taiwan, high school students have been wiping sweat from their brows as they take their national examinations, while parents accompanying their children to the examination halls perspire as they wait outside. It’s a familiar scene that is repeated every year, and now seems a fitting time to think about whether the content of our education system is keeping up with the times.

Taiwan in the early 21st century has entered a period of shifting standards and changing values. In politics, following two handovers of central government power from one party to another, the idea of a sovereign Taiwan has become widely accepted. The voice of the common citizen has become the norm and the sharp division between the China-centric pan-blue camp and the Taiwan-centric pan-green camp has been diluted by efficiency and clean government.

In economics, Taiwan, as an island nation, is both dependent on and wary of China. While having great expectations of cross-strait links, Taiwan is hesitant about putting a foot forward. Within capitalism’s global division of labor, evolving cross-strait relations are having a deep effect on the allocation of manpower. In society and culture, the line between work and other aspects of life are becoming blurred and notions of privilege and disadvantage are being redefined.

Although fairness and justice are still respected, it seems they are being defined in more relative terms. In the face of all these changes, the realm of education, slow to react as ever, is floundering.

Policymaking in education is overshadowed by too many political factors. The golden age when education was supposed to be non-partisan, putting the student first, is long gone. Fights have broken out in the legislature over proposals to recognize Chinese academic diplomas and allow Chinese students to attend colleges in Taiwan. The controversy over Taiwanese students studying medicine in Poland is no longer based on purely professional concerns or differences in the two counties’ education systems, but on vested interests.

Funding under the Plan to Develop World-Class Universities and Top-Notch Research Centers, which set aside NT$50 billion (US$1.557 billion) over five years to upgrade universities, will be halved starting next year as other sectors demand a piece of the budget cake.

With regard to the reform of elementary and secondary school education, the attractive slogan of providing 12 years of state schooling is a cover for diverting massive funds into fast-food policies such as providing subsidies to cover the difference in fees between public and private schools, encouraging cooperation between technical and vocational schools and business enterprises, providing free tuition for practical skills courses, after-class care for elementary school students and tuition-free attendance for Aboriginal children and those living on outlying islands.

The so-called “diploma disease” that worried educators and sociologists abroad in the late 20th century is now affecting Taiwan. Even as government departments exert themselves to cut unemployment, figures released by the Council of Labor Affairs reveal that, since the beginning of this year, some high-technology companies, as well as electrical and other engineering firms, have only been able to fill 20 to 40 percent of available openings.

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