Cram school proposal awful
Today, I learned with horror that the Executive Yuan has approved a proposal to authorize the Ministry of Education to bankrupt private English schools for children if the environment of the school is deemed to be insufficiently lively and natural (“Stricter rules on language learning,” Aug. 30, page 1).
I have taught English to children and adults in Taiwan since September 1987. Everywhere that I have taught, I have worked tirelessly to teach English in lively, friendly and natural way. And I have strenuously opposed the pressure-cooker style of teaching all too common in the ministry’s public schools.
The emphasis on memorization and multiple-choice tests (as promoted by the ministry) is wrong. All students, including adults, perform better and learn more when they are having fun. Forced memorization of English vocabulary and grammar produces students who hate English and are unable to speak or write fluently.
So, in a sense, my adverse reaction to the proposal might seem odd. On the surface, by outlawing memorization and promoting a natural environment, one might conclude that the ministry is at long last moving in the right direction.
Yet, as usual, the devil is in the detail. Consider how this “reform” is to be implemented.
We are told that private schools that do not teach in a lively, natural way will suffer repeated fines of NT$500,000. How will it be determined that the school failed to teach correctly? Will employees of the ministry sit in classrooms to observe teaching methods? If not, what sort of evidence will be used to justify these draconian fines?
Some people in the ministry must think that English schools for children are gold mines. Actually, most of them could not afford to pay such a large fine even once. Repeated fines would bankrupt even the largest chains. Most owners of private schools will just close their doors rather than risk punishments like these.
If the legislature adopts this awful proposal, English schools for children will either go underground or cease to exist.
Instead of this ill-conceived proposal, the ministry should provide “natural teaching methods training” to all teachers (including public school teachers). Further it should hold seminars to explain and promote the lively, natural approach to parents.
Finally, by issuing certificates to teachers who completed the training and by encouraging parents to seek schools that employ such teachers, the goals it claims to seek might actually be accomplished.
The ministry’s latest spectacular fail — stricter regulations for cram schools teaching children under six — is another destructive policy that will cripple Taiwanese childrens’ language skills for life.
Rigorous multilingual global studies have demonstrated that if young students are not exposed to certain vocal sounds, such as the two sounds of “th” in words like “this” and “through” before they reach age four, they will have a terribly hard time mastering these sounds.
Furthermore, not all cram schools are created equal. It is well documented that the textbooks and teachers’ manuals at Kongzhong Meiyu under the franchise name AMC outperform all the other cram schools, but the ministry is silent on this.
Adding yet another layer of government supervision that restricts schools to teaching “body movements” and “artistic talents” for bright, enthusiastic young learners, punishable by a fine of up to NT$500,000, while banning students from learning how to write the alphabet (no, I am not making this up) is the absolute antithesis of what education should be about, given that students learn to write the Bopomofo phonetics for Mandarin early on.