Literacy testing shouldn't be resisted

By Lee Min-yung 李敏勇  / 

Sat, Jul 17, 2004 - Page 8

Lu Chien-hui (盧千惠), the wife of Taiwan's recently appointed official representative in Japan, Ko Se-kai (許世楷), has recently launched a Chinese translation of the Japanese children's illustrated book entitled The Gentle and Compassionate Light in Gondar.

Japan's representative here was invited to the book launch, making the event something of a diplomatic exchange. As NT$100,000 was donated to the charity Japan International Food for the Hungry, the launch also had the quality of an international charity event in which Taiwan and Japan cooperated to aid the starving in Africa.

While in Japan, Lu decided to translate the book after seeing her niece reading the Japanese-English bilingual version of the book about famine in Africa. Lu subsequently obtained the translation rights to the book from Japan International Food for the Hungry and approached the Yushan publishing company to publish a Chinese version.

The timing couldn't have been better and the book served as a gift from Ko on his arrival to Japan, adding a cultural dimension to his political mission.

Lu's niece is a primary school student, and over the summer holidays she was assigned a selection of 20 books on which to write book reports. A primary school in Japan also made The Gentle and Compassionate Light in Gondar required reading over the summer holidays.

Yesterday, parents gathered outside the Ministry of Education to protest the addition of composition tests to entrance examinations. They said that adding this new element would increase tuition costs families. But why should composition and tuition be related? Why don't they connect composition with reading? Is it true that entrance examinations are inextricably linked to tuition?

Reading and writing are closely linked to cultural development. Promoting these skills is an important function of educational and cultural agencies in many countries. A developed nation should not only excel in economics, but also in cultural fields.

Students who only know how to pass exams but don't read and write regularly will want exams to be simplified as much as possible.

It is through reading that we absorb culture and through writing that we express our knowledge. This is related to a person's ability to understand, contemplate and communicate their thoughts. To be articulate is to express one's character. If we do not think about literacy issues, what kind of people will our children become?

In a culturally developed country, even a laborer will read a book of poetry in his or her spare time. But in a culture only concerned with filling its belly, even a professor might be illiterate to the language of poetry. Let me make a comparison between a country were the compassion shown by a primary school girl reading a book like The Gentle and Compassionate Light in Gondar touches her aunt's heart; and our own society, in which parents protest over the need to be tested on composition. Do Taiwanese think this is how to raise children?

Lee Min-yung is a poet and president of the Taiwan Peace Foundation.

Translated by Ian Bartholomew