Editorial: The purpose of education

Fri, Mar 22, 2013 - Page 8

Few among the hundreds of thousands of high-school students taking part in the annual university entrance examinations and the thousands of university graduates entering graduate schools every year can imagine what their life will be after school.

Some of them may end up working in fields unrelated to what they studied in school. They could become another Sung Keng-lang (宋耿郎), a doctoral student at National Chengchi University who quit school after two years in the program and became a chicken fillet street vendor.

The story of Sung’s career change became famous after it was picked up by the media and drew a sharp response from tycoon Terry Gou (郭台銘), who said that people like Sung “have wasted education resources and should be taxed for abusing public resources.”

Ironically, Gou, chairman of Hon Hai Group, the world’s biggest contract electronics manufacturer, also majored in another field at school that was then a five-year vocational school and which is now known as the Taipei College of Maritime Technology.

It is not surprising to see that many people hold the same view as Gou. Taiwan has an abundance of master’s or doctoral graduates — and most Taiwanese seem to think that such graduates should not end up taking blue-collar jobs, or, in this case, selling fried chicken.

Another case that has caught the public’s eye is that of master baker Wu Pao-chun (吳寶春), whose applications to join the executive master of business administration (EMBA) programs at various local universities, including National Chengchi University and National Sun Yat-sen University, were rejected.

The 42-year-old Wu won the title of Bakery Master in the bread category at the Bakery World Cup in Paris in 2010. After his victory, he was hailed as the “pride of Taiwan” and it earned him a meeting with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

Wu, who now runs his own bakery, which generates about NT$200 million (US$6.7 million) in annual revenue, was rejected because he is a “class B technician” who only has a junior-high school diploma. Taiwan’s EMBA programs require that applicants be a university graduate, or a “class A technician.”

Gou could probably sympathize with Wu, as he himself was rejected by National Taiwan University’s EMBA program because he does not have a university diploma.

Ironically, Wu might achieve his dream, as the National University of Singapore has reportedly sent admission officials to Taiwan to try to recruit him.

The two cases are a reminder of the general misconception about education in Taiwan.

While some of the students in the nation’s 148 universities — which have more than doubled from 58 in 1994 — are still wondering what they are doing there or perhaps do not even want to be there, Wu, who wants to go back to school, was deprived of the opportunity because of “technical reasons.”

While we are taught that we are likely to “face more curveballs than fastballs” in life and learning, and everyone’s life takes its own course, Sung was told that his career change was a waste of education resources and was not a good example to others.

Education should be a happy experience, especially for those who want to learn, regardless of age, gender, experience or occupation. It should also be an opportunity to gain wisdom and prepare one for life — and not for people to tell students what they should do — or cannot do — in life.