Sun, Sep 16, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Rethinking the use of educational benchmarks

By Feng Kuo-hao 馮國豪

Media reports about a graduate from the Department of Economics at Tsing Hua University who went to Australia to work as a “Taiwanese migrant worker” (台勞) have become a source of much debate recently. In my view, the source of the problem with Taiwanese students having to go abroad to work is that for the past two decades, the educational system has only focused on productivity, while ignoring dedication and enthusiasm for teaching, and this has caused both teachers and students to lose sight of the overall goal of education.

Toward the end of the 1980s, a series of educational reforms were implemented that resulted in demands to improve the quality of higher education. There was nothing wrong with the idea, but the approach that was adopted by the educational administration was to set up a series of quantitative benchmarks by which it could judge the quality of education.

Some examples of these reforms are the demand that institutions of higher learning should increase the proportion of teachers holding a doctoral degree and the proportion of teachers at the level of assistant professor and above, encouraging the elevation of specialized technical institutes to university level, establishing a system for teacher evaluation and making the number of articles published in Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) and Science Citation Index (SCI) journals the standard for promotions and evaluating National Science Council (NSC) program applications. Such absurd measures for evaluating educational quality using quantitative benchmarks also called Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs — were continuously introduced.

The education administration system also includes many other strange ideas and methods, such as determining whether teachers show concern for their students by looking at interview records and how many interviews a teacher has had with students, evaluating whether or not they are thorough in their teaching by looking at whether there is a syllabus and the number of assessments and determining whether a teacher connects with industry by looking at the number of projects operated jointly with industry.

As a result, each term teachers are busy planning lessons for every class, holding interviews with students, visiting students living in dormitories and their place of work, submitting NSC program applications, trying to set up joint projects with industry, promoting their school, getting training at companies, writing articles for publication in SCI or SSCI journals and so on.

Every benchmark is geared toward measuring a teacher’s productivity, and in addition, there are never-ending teacher evaluations. However, none of these benchmarks can measure a teacher’s dedication and enthusiasm for teaching.

The education administration system should return the right of education to the teachers and their students, cut down on the influence of quantitative benchmarks on the quality of education — after maintaining these benchmarks for a period to give schools time to adapt — lower the frequency of teacher evaluations and replace process management with goal management.

We can learn how to guarantee and maintain educational quality by managing educational goals instead of by interfering at every step of the educational process.

Let teachers concentrate on teaching, and let students concentrate on learning.

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