During a recent visit to a Skoda car factory in the Czech Republic, what impressed me more than anything was not its daily output of 2,500 cars or its annual turnover of 1.05 million cars — which translates into a yearly revenue of more than NT$400 billion (US$ 13.3 billion) — but the wide application of robot automation that was responsible for 80 percent of the production process.
While Taiwan is still struggling to solve problems associated with a five-day workweek and low wages, the Czech Republic has already entered the “Industry 4.0” era without Taiwanese even knowing.
When I first visited the Czech Republic in 1995, the country’s GDP per capita was only US$4,400 — a third of Taiwan’s GDP per capita at the time. By 2008, its GDP number had risen to more than US$26,000, exceeding Taiwan’s by more than US$18,000.
Over the past several years, the Czech Republic has taken concrete steps to improve its economy, whereas Taiwan’s economy has only deteriorated.
During my recent trip, I visited two high schools with only about 350 students each. Both schools are clearly ambitious when it comes to expanding their students’ horizons and conducting exchanges with other nations. Their students often attend science fairs and other competitions in their own country and in the US, and participate in activities to promote international exchanges with other European nations. They also have international exchange students from Thailand, Japan, the US and other nations.
The students’ knowledge about the world, and their ability to participate in international events, represents their country’s competitiveness in the international community.
This makes one think about Taiwan, where many universities still subscribe to a self-limiting mindset and are unwilling to engage the outside world.
Even the idea of creating an internship program allowing Taiwanese students to work in China at Taiwanese businesses operating there was met with resistance, with many universities saying that it would be difficult because it involved leaving the nation.
If universities are unwilling to look outward and reach out, students will not be able to gain an international outlook.
During my trip, I also met with three university presidents, who told me that, like Taiwan, the country is experiencing a declining birth rate and to reduce the effects of this decline on schools, universities have increased their investment to improve the quality of teaching and worked hard to promote their education programs in China and other Asian countries to attract talented high school students who want to study in the Czech Republic.
This not only gives local students the opportunity to engage with students from abroad, it also brings talent from around the world to their schools.
Since breaking away from the Soviet Union, the Czech Republic has moved toward a free-market economy. Today, its economic success has come to be viewed as a European economic miracle.
When Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic’s first president who was also a writer and human rights advocate, took office, the country was poor and underdeveloped. However, since his presidency, it has become wealthy and well-developed and developed a flexible and effective global network.
It has been a year since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office and Taiwan is still facing a litany of problems at home and abroad, which has led to many complaints. A look at the Czech Republic’s recent history of development could perhaps offer us some insights on what Taiwan could do.
Johnny Shieh is an assistant professor in Kao Yuan University’s marketing and distribution management department.
Translated by Tu Yu-an
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