Despite having a population of fewer than 1 million, Iceland’s national soccer team on June 16 drew with Argentina in their Group D match at the FIFA World Cup in Russia. Switzerland, another small country, also managed a 1-1 draw in their Group E match with the much larger Brazil. How is it that Taiwan, with a population of more than 23 million, is unable to achieve a similar performance?
Perhaps it has something to do with Taiwan’s obsession with academic performance. Taiwanese educators rarely tell children that they can be successful in any walk of life as long as they put in the hard work.
The education system is also bad at inspiring and fostering natural talent. As a result, students are forced to bury their heads in books all day long and sit a never-ending series of tests and exams.
Their exam scores are revered above all else, the ultimate glory being earning a coveted place at one of the nation’s so-called “famous” universities.
How could such an educational environment cultivate outstanding talent in a wide range of fields?
By contrast, in the US and Europe, parents and students do not place such a strong emphasis on “famous” universities, and they generally embrace the idea that every profession and trade has equal merit.
There is also a universal belief in the importance of developing a proficiency in a particular field, or inspiring and cultivating children who demonstrate a natural ability for sport.
Outstanding individuals receive special training from government-backed institutions and once they achieve success, they enjoy large salaries, while also having the opportunity to win honor for their nation. It is a system that benefits both the individuals and the nation.
Given these additional avenues to success, unlike in Taiwan, students and parents do not swarm like flies to a honey pot toward the so-called “four big professions” — doctor, lawyer, accountant and architect — in search of glory and a “stable career.”
Unlike in Taiwan, US and European students are not put under intense pressure to achieve high grades and obtain multiple diplomas.
You do not see cram schools on virtually every street corner in Western cities, as, unlike in Taiwan, children are not forced to attend extra lessons after school.
They also are not forced to read as many books as Taiwanese children and do not take as many tests. Despite this, in Western societies, intellect, innovation, creativity and sporting ethos far surpass Taiwan.
For example, Germany has made more than 30 million technological innovations over the past 100 years or so, and its products are both extremely well-made and durable. As a result, German goods and services are popular with consumers around the world, while Germany has helped turn the game of soccer into a major employer and generator of massive salaries.
Germany is not just a major economic powerhouse, but also a major cultivator of talent and ideas.
The main reason Taiwan’s national soccer team continuously fails to make it past the qualifying rounds of the World Cup is the excessive emphasis society places on study and academic credentials, which can be traced back to the scholar-official system of feudal China.
The government generously awards civil servants adept at writing reports in officialese, but lacking in any real ability and who produce nothing of actual worth; and there is no effective system in place to sort the wheat from the chaff.
The government is stacked full of redundant civil servants working in bloated and inefficient departments who take home fat pay checks and enjoy generous benefits that the majority of private-sector employees can only dream of.
While the nation as a whole is rendered increasingly uncompetitive, these failing civil servants are continually rewarded with promotions.
Taiwan’s soccer team would surely be more competitive if successive governments did not stuff civil servants, teachers and the military with electoral bribe money, and place undue emphasis on academic credentials, diplomas and examination scores, while ignoring vocational education and sports, and failing to provide proper remuneration and welfare to workers and athletes.
Politicians should heed the advice and criticism of those outside of government and also study the lessons from abroad.
Taiwan should follow the models of Iceland and Switzerland, give children the space to be themselves and forge their own path so that they can have the opportunity to grow up to be who they really want to be.
Perhaps many more Taiwanese would then set their sights higher, rise to the top of their chosen line of work, become famous and make their nation proud, rather than settling for one of the four big professions or simply becoming a civil servant, feeding off the state rice bowl.
Teng Hon-yuan is an associate professor at Aletheia University.
Translated by Edward Jones
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