Tue, Oct 14, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Teachers rue falling Mandarin standards in schools

By Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

A survey shows that nearly 80 percent of elementary school and junior high school teachers think that their students' ability to read and write Mandarin has deteriorated since the Nine-Year Educational Program was implemented three years ago.

"Mandarin, English and dialects were integrated in a so-called `language field' after the ministry implemented the Nine-Year Educational Program," Chiang Chu-cun (蔣竹君), vice president of the Mandarin Daily News (國語日報), which conducted the survey, said yesterday at a press conference.

"The program has reduced the class hours of Mandarin, which has raised difficulties for both teachers and students," Chiang said.

The Mandarin Daily News, a daily newspaper published for elementary children, received the views of 863 elementary school and junior high school teachers from 48 schools across the country.

Nearly 75 percent of teachers said that the class hours in the language field were insufficient, and 71.1 percent said that more hours of Mandarin should be taught.

The Nine-Year Educational Program allows for five to six hours a week of Mandarin classes at the elementary-school level.

Before the program, students received about 10 hours a week of Mandarin. Another four to five hours were allotted to English and dialects.

"Children have enough time neither to study Mandarin nor read outside of class time," said Hung Lan (洪蘭), a professor at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, National Central University.

She said extracurricular reading was key in helping children lift their Mandarin level, but many children now study only for the examinations.

"Many teachers told me that their students' ability to understand what the books say is getting worse. Many of them misuse idioms and phrases," Hung said. "Some even have difficulty completing a composition without writing words incorrectly."

But not everyone held the Nine-Year Education Program solely responsible for poor language skills.

According to the survey, about 42.06 percent blamed changes in society for declining Mandarin proficiency, and 40.79 percent said exam-oriented education was also responsible. Others attributed it to the use of computers, the Internet and the popularity of mass media.

"Many students wrote expressions in their test papers that they would type in a chat room on the Internet, which included some signs and simplified characters," said Cheng Hsiao-lan (鄭小嵐), a history teacher at Taipei County Fuho Junior High School.

Cheng said some of them often hand in papers that do not make sense of the topic.

"I guess it is the problem of the social agenda, rather than the educational policy," Cheng said.

One teacher said in the questionnaire: "Do not blame educational problems on the Nine-Year Educational Program. Think about our society and the parents' attitudes."

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