EDITORIAL: Field trips should be taken seriously

Wed, Sep 12, 2018 - Page 8

As if Taiwanese education were not dry enough and parents were not overprotective enough, groups are now balking at the government’s initiative to increase the frequency and duration of school field trips.

However, some of their points are valid.

The Tourism Bureau last month said it is planning to help revitalize domestic tourism by increasing the frequency of field trips from once per year to once per semester, and by extending trips from one to two days. The policy is to take effect in February next year and apply to more than 3,000 schools.

More school trips are definitely a good thing, as it takes students out of their classroom monotony and endless exams, and exposes them to the real world. Practical education is important to Taiwanese students’ competitiveness, and it will only enrich their educational experience.

However, perhaps “revitalizing domestic tourism” is not the proper reason to implement the policy, as critics are saying that the government is prioritizing tourism over children’s education by “trying to turn the trips into a tool for saving domestic tourism,” New Taipei City Education Union secretary-general Lee Man-li (李曼麗) said.

While the trips would definitely boost the number of visitors to various destinations, it is a convoluted way of doing it, as it essentially forces children to take these trips instead of devising sustainable and productive ways to attract more “real” tourists, domestic and foreign. This is like requiring all employees of a company to buy from their own shops to boost revenue.

The destinations also need to be closely examined within an educational context to make sure they are actually beneficial to learning, instead of serving as tourist traps where students would be forced to spend money.

The government said that the policy would support the new curricula to be implemented in the next academic year, but with schools prone to odd decisions and society politically divided, the planning of these trips needs to be scrutinized.

Speaking of money, the government would also need to subsidize costs for poorer families — otherwise, it would create unnecessary burdens, as Lee correctly pointed out.

The two-day stay is also questionable, as it seems obvious that it is “recommended” so that groups spend money on lodging, but if the schools are confident that they have the resources and ability to ensure safety, it is not a bad thing for today’s overprotected children to try staying a night away from home, and for “helicopter” parents to try letting go of their children.

Critics say that younger children “need their parents’ care and parents are bound to be worried if their children spend the night away from home,” which is true, but this just enforces the idea of obsessive parenting that is creating mabaos (媽寶, “mama’s baby”): adults who were coddled so much growing up that they are incapable of making their own decisions and taking responsibility for their actions. One night away will not hurt them.

If done properly, these trips are wonderful opportunities, and schools should take them seriously and try to make use of their benefits, instead of treating them as something the government forces upon them. With that attitude, mishaps will happen, proving the critics right.