Fri, Nov 04, 2011 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTERS ]

Politics without policies

I have resided in Taiwan for several years and have witnessed elections first-hand. Nevertheless, for years I believed that political issues were never translated into English in this and other media. We only ever read about the situation regarding China.

How naive was I!

I now know that this is used as a smoke screen to divert attention from the lack of clear policies regarding important issues such as education, employment, the economy and health. The vast majority of Taiwanese never discuss the “China” issue, but do consider these other issues very carefully and in depth.

Taiwan’s main political parties and many citizens give the excuse that this is a “new” democracy and that any serious discussion and understanding of political issues is simply beyond the average person.

I do blame the media, including the Taipei Times, for not taking prospective politicians to task on these central issues: Where do they stand on educational reform? How do they intend to improve the economy?

People vote for the party that clarifies solutions in a manifesto. Expats in Taiwan do pay taxes, and even though we cannot vote, it would be interesting to discover the true policies of the two major political parties.

Or is that foreign policy?

Peter M. Jones

Taipei

Education without learning

As a long-term foreign resident of Taiwan, I strive to stay sincerely appreciative of all this country has provided to my family. Married to a Taiwanese, we have three children who are being educated at state schools in Taipei. My eldest is a ninth-grader at ChinHwa Junior High School. With a heavy heart I wish to question the effectiveness of her education, as well as that of her peers.

I believe the present conditions within the education system are harmful. The “fear of being left behind” and the high expectations of both parents and teachers cause fierce competitiveness among and pressure on students, resulting in drawbacks that outweigh their benefits. Perhaps the high teenage suicide rate in Taiwan underscores the point. A daughter coming home close to tears almost every day is proof enough for me.

There are two areas I wish to mention. First, the students’ workload is extreme. My daughter’s school day begins at 7:30am and usually ends after 5:30pm, yet she is one of only three students from her class who leave school “that early”! The rest are encouraged to stay until after 9pm. Since my daughter does not attend the evening classes, she has some difficulty in keeping up with the sheer amount of material presented during the semester.

Second, the continual testing — as well as the very public system of ranking — is also a concern. Tests take place every day in the morning and on many afternoons. In such an intense environment, I have to question how much actual acquisition is taking place. One only needs to look at the English material being taught and then speak to the average teenager to see the divide between what is expected and what is acquired.

Evidence shows that the present system only suits a minority of students: Those who have established a mechanism to block the pressure and who have a better-than-average verbal-linguistic intelligence, meaning they learn best by reading and memorizing rather than by visualizing and interacting.

Has the Ministry of Education honestly determined this present system of forcing students to cram vast amounts of information and testing ninth-graders on a daily basis to be the best method of imparting knowledge and cultivating talent? Shouldn’t students be given more time and opportunity to explore different areas and discover their strengths without such imposition? Shouldn’t both student and pedagogical creativity be a key area of enhancement? Shouldn’t students be given more opportunities to acquire understanding by other means, rather than just memorizing? These are just some of the questions that concern me.

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