The number of candidates for the joint college entrance examination for technical and vocational education (TVE) this year has dropped sharply by almost 10,000 people year-on-year.
Surprisingly, the examination is little known as the entrance threshold for TVE schools. The public’s ignorance reflects the fact that Taiwanese society does not value technical and vocational education.
It is hard to say whether the nation’s low birthrate also contributed to the sharp decline in applicants, but, in any case, the government is largely responsible.
Due to educational reform, the junior colleges that we used to be so proud of have almost all been closed, the shutdown of the Taipei Institute of Technology perhaps being the saddest loss.
The government’s determination to eliminate junior colleges has given young people the impression that TVE is of little importance, driving them toward regular universities.
However, Taiwan wants to keep its manufacturing industry. No country has completely eliminated the manufacturing sector, but every factory requires a considerable number of technicians.
For example, the assembly of jet aircraft cannot be done by engineers alone — the vast majority of staff are technicians.
In addition, large factories require sophisticated electric power distribution, to be maintained by highly specialized technicians. Without them, manufacturing would be impossible.
Many young people think of manufacturing workers as “black hands” (黑手), referring to their allegedly dirty working environment.
However, many factories in Taiwan now produce precision instruments and are very clean, some equipped with cleanrooms. Unfortunately, these industries have not promoted a positive image to young people. Hopefully, they will work harder to improve their image and attract young people to become technicians.
The main problem is that the government might not understand the importance of industrial production at all, trying to raise industries’ appeal simply by using lofty slogans.
It has defined six core strategic industries to be promoted: the information and digital industry, information security, biological and medical technology, the aerospace and defense industry, renewable energy, and key strategic consumer goods materials.
It has floated dazzling project names, but there are few details on how to achieve any goals.
Take biology and medical technology for example: The government should first look at the medical devices used in the nation’s major hospitals and assess how many of them are made in Taiwan.
Medical instruments require high-precision technology and are made in Europe, the US or Japan by large companies employing many technicians.
The government mentioned the defense industry, which nowadays does not manufacture ordinary guns. Today’s weaponry requires high-precision components, which are made by specialized technical personnel.
If the government only makes empty promises without understanding the importance of industrial production, the situation for technical and vocational schools will become even more difficult, and eventually render plans for industrial upgrades hopeless.
The sharp drop in the number of students taking the TVE joint college entrance exam will diminish the country’s competitiveness. It is a serious problem, and the main responsibility lies with the government.
Lee Chia-tung is an honorary professor at National Tsing Hua University.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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