The results of the General Scholastic Ability Test are in. The average for the math test was 32 percent, a result that has caused a lot of debate. Wherein lies the problem? I believe our high school curriculums are both too complex and too difficult, something that applies to many different subjects. If this situation is not resolved, our educational goals will not be met and we will hurt our students in our eagerness to assist them.
Internationally, students generally have seven classes per day five days a week, have to carry few or no books, spend 30 minutes to 60 minutes after school on review and have little homework. Each semester is 18 weeks long, and students take part in other activities during summer and winter break. Test results follow normal distribution with most results falling around the mid to high level with fewer top and bottom results.
In Taiwan, however, students have eight classes per day five or six days per week, carry a lot of books, go to cram school in the evenings and on weekends and have more homework than they can finish. Each semester is 20 weeks long, and students study during summer and winter breaks. When it comes to test results, there are few mid to high results, and many fail.
This raises the question of why our students, after working so hard, get worse results. If the situation only applied to an individual school or class, it could be because of an individual teacher, the study habits of individual students, or individual test questions. This, however, is a decades-long problem that affects almost every school in Taiwan. The problem is: too much, and too difficult.
From a practical perspective, many parents have discovered from experience that unless what they learned in high school can be applied to their profession, it is of limited use. If they looked at today’s high school textbooks, many parents would be surprised at their complexity and depth. They do not want to see their children spend all their time studying, taking tests and going to cram school, but a highly competitive environment leaves them with no choice.
The educational process must foster an interest in study in students, to develop their abilities and give them a feeling of accomplishment so that they can give free rein to their talents and promote the development of society. Instead, the breadth and depth of the curriculum results in many students feeling frustrated by the heavy burden and discouraging test results, which stymies their growth rather than promoting it. Even before our young teenagers have had the chance to develop a feeling of achievement, they meet with frustration and setbacks, and this has a negative impact on their future growth and their contributions to society.
If a more practical approach was applied to the curriculums of the various subjects so that students really could learn and perform well in the tests, they would not only be given the foundation and knowledge they need, they would also, in an era that explodes with information, have the time and energy to absorb new knowledge that interests them as well as the time to both exercise and simply rest.
Each must be allowed to perform according to his strengths and abilities, rather than demanding that everyone be a top performer in all subjects. Such an approach would allow students to learn more, and do so in a joyful environment, thus improving their results and making them more competitive. The average math score of 32 percent should be enough to alert the educational authorities and the general public and place renewed focus on this issue.
Hsieh Min-chieh is associate professor and director of the Department and Graduate Institute of Political Science at National Chung Cheng University.
TRANSLATED BY PERRY SVENSSON
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