National Chiayi University professor Wu Quen-tsai (吳昆財) on Aug. 31 held a news conference to voice his opposition to the new national curriculum. Observing that the “adaptive talent development” aspect of the curriculum puts “me” in first place, Wu interpreted this as meaning “I should be able to do whatever I like.”
However, this is not what the “flipped classroom” approach to teaching really means.
People sometimes wonder why Asian students often win at the starting line, but Western students win at the finish. Research indicates that this has to do with Eastern ways of education. Anxious Taiwanese parents tell their children: “Don’t stumble at the starting block.”
It also has to do with East Asian societies’ blind faith in scores and reputable schools. People think that test scores are the fairest form of evaluation, but score-based assessment depends on standard answers and uniformity of syllabi, textbooks and even ideology. When education only provides uniform values and a uniform view of history, the influence of textbooks becomes greatly magnified, and there will be much bickering about the curricula, proportions and viewpoints they contain.
When an education system is centered around textbooks and teachers, students will be passively inculcated with a fixed corpus of learning. As for teachers, they need only play the role of an authority of knowledge. Like sports coaches, they require students to practice over and over again until they have a thorough grasp of the prescribed body of knowledge.
Western education does not revolve around textbooks and teachers. Rather, it helps students build their own powers of thinking and judgement. When such students eventually go out into the world, it will be a diverse society in which everyone can think independently, instead of one where what appears to be social consensus is really just populism and blind following. If teachers turn out a stream of children who think the same as they do, they might be happy to have passed on their ideas. However, the Western view is that teachers should feel more gratified if their students think differently, because those students have become themselves.
US teachers only spend about a quarter of their energy on preparing students to take standardized tests. Most of their efforts go into helping students engage in diverse and in-depth exploration, and guiding them toward studying things that have greater long-term benefits.
The proportion of curricular versus extra-curricular questions in the tests that Taiwanese students have to take is now being adjusted in response to this direction of educational thinking. The curriculum’s “diverse elective subjects and flexible learning syllabuses” have no doubt started to unravel the former pattern of syllabi being completely controlled by teachers and knowledge monopolized by textbooks. Test questions are more focused on personal, interdisciplinary cultivation.
Allowing students to choose between elective courses creates healthy competition between teachers. With various courses to choose from, students must learn to judge which they want for themselves and which will be beneficial for them. It also creates a positive cycle between teachers and students, because when students can think and judge for themselves, it will naturally lead teachers to amend their teaching strategies. Thus, teachers will grow and develop alongside their students.
The new curriculum makes students the central theme of study, so that it will meet their real needs and future challenges. Meanwhile, a teacher’s job is not just to teach. It also means being someone who never stops learning.
Chen Rui-lin teaches Chinese at a senior high school.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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