Two lessons from Sri Lanka
A few years ago, I went to Sri Lanka, accompanied by medical staff and volunteer workers with a range of specialities to provide medical aid to local people. Most of the time, we stayed in remote areas. We either set up equipment in elementary schools or provided services in community centers.
Sri Lanka, though still a developing country, taught me two vital lessons I had never learned, or expected to learn, during my school years in Taiwan.
Lesson one: Playing is as important as studying.
One day, we camped at an elementary school. During the lunch break, I was looking at the posters on the walls of their classrooms. One particular sentence printed on a poster immediately caught my attention: “Study all day and no play makes John a boring boy.”
It was a bit of a shock to me. Playing has long been regarded as a futile and fruitless activity in Taiwan. Teachers and parents do not tolerate such behavior and would certainly not emphasize playing at school, not to mention displaying posters like that in a classroom.
Lesson two: English is used not only in class, but also in daily life.
A Sri Lankan non-government organization recruited English teachers from senior- high schools to be interpreters on our trip.
At each stop we worked together with teachers from different local districts. One day, before allocating equipment as we usually did, some interpreters came to me to discuss some issues. When everything was resolved, I started working on my own stuff, setting up tools and getting everything ready. At that moment, a few curious students wandered into the classroom. The teachers, also in the room, were chatting. This is not unusual at all, but what surprised me was that they were speaking to each other in English.
I could not help but ask: “Why don’t you talk to each other in your mother tongue, since there are no foreigners joining in your conversation?”
They gave me a smile and replied: “We want to set a good example for the students, therefore whenever they are around, even just one, we will talk to each other in English. All English teachers in this district have agreed to do so.”
I was speechless; looking back on my years at school, I could not remember a similar situation in which English teachers spoke to each other in English.
In our society, English is confined to the classroom, weighted by test scores and viewed as a superior language.
I could not stop thinking about these two lessons as I returned home. The growing debate over the education system and English teaching in Taiwan, prompted me to share these thoughts.
In many ways, Taiwan is being left behind by the other “Asian Tigers,” and sooner or later it may also be overtaken by developing nations.
We should do something now to adjust our path before it is too late.