Mon, Dec 13, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Internationalization key to education

By Peter Osborne

The government and educational directors recognize that the intellectual future of Taiwan depends upon the development of a bilingual educational culture. The proliferation of English language schools and bushibans for students of all ages demonstrates that parents also recognize and act on this imperative.

Unfortunately, the internationalization of some Taiwanese universities is occurring at an incremental pace.

Slow and steady may have once won a race, but the current transition is below an acceptable pace.

An established method to add cultural diversity, teaching and research strength to a university is to employ suitably qualified English-speaking academics, professors and doctors. The National Science Council provides temporary fellowships for foreign scientists to visit and teach in Taiwan, but almost none of the foreign guest professors on these fellowships are incorporated into local universities on a permanent basis. This contrasts markedly with the situation for Taiwanese, where the position of guest professor is routinely used as a stepping stone to full-time and permanent employment at national and private universities.

Why the disparity? Why are there not a greater number of foreign English-speaking professionals teaching and researching at Taiwanese universities?

Paradoxically, although students are encouraged to learn in English and lecturers are encouraged to teach in English, there is a reluctance to accept foreign guest professors as permanent members of university -departments. Some Taiwanese working at universities assume that non-Mandarin-speaking foreign nationals will be an administrative burden that will require placing an additional work load on staff members. To a small extent, this may be true initially, but in reality, this attitude is just a smoke screen that hides the fact that some existing staff do not have an English language ability that is adequate for teaching in English. Others just wish to avoid the changes in attitude or work place culture that will occur as university departments become increasingly multicultural.

Multicultural — yes, we want it, but not in my immediate workplace.

The self-preserving attitudes of a minority hinders the evolution of the existing pedagogical system into a hybrid bilingual English/Mandarin working--teaching environment that has the potential to utilize the best of both cultures.

Historically, it may have been advantageous for a culture to characterize itself on the basis of who was excluded, but the resultant dichotomy — those in the group and the “other,” is increasingly problematic in today’s increasingly interdependent world.

Psychologically, the reluctance of some university departments to engage in a new hybrid educational future is an understandable human sentiment, but it dictates that the education provided to today’s students remains less than optimal.

It has the additional effect of denying universities the benefits of the research expertise these foreign professors have mastered because as temporary employees they are ineligible to apply for Taiwanese research grants. Students and departments can only benefit in the short term from their teaching and not at all from their research expertise if it is outside existing departmental fields.

It is clear that transitional periods are testing times where the problems of both the old and new systems have to be addressed simultaneously. These difficulties are minimized and resources can be better focused when the transition interval to the new system is made as short as possible. Delaying the process, sometimes indefinitely, does not benefit the system, the reputation of the universities, the quality of tuition and research or reward students justly.

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