All students have the same right to education, regardless of their background and path of study. There should not be any discrimination in the access to education, but the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) latest policy excludes and discriminates against foreign students wishing to learn Chinese in Taiwan.
On Monday last week, the MOE announced that all degree-seeking foreign students would be allowed to enter or return to Taiwan, regardless of progress in study. This policy benefited thousands of students, but unfortunately, Chinese-language students, like myself, were excluded.
On Sunday, the Taipei Times reported on an education symposium held last week at National Taiwan University (“Pandemic presents education opening,” page 3).
At the symposium, multiple education officials made statements that apparently contradicted the MOE’s policy of keeping language students out of Taiwan.
However in 2013, the MOE implemented an eight-year project to turn Taiwan into a major international destination for Chinese-language education. Since then, the ministry has invested NT$3 billion (US$ 101.59 million) in the project.
If Taiwan wants to become a Chinese-language education hub, the MOE and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) should quickly reallow the entry of foreign language students. With proper health protocols in place, bringing language students back into Taiwan could be achieved safely and with a low risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Since the government began implementing its New Southbound Policy, it has put stronger focus on Chinese-language programs, aiming to attract more Southeast Asian students to Taiwan.
Southeast Asian countries, especially Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, have greatly contributed to the number of international students in Taiwan. Considering the policy’s goals, the MOE should prioritize to reallow the entry of language students.
The government should seize the opportunity to attract language students from foreign countries, as the COVID-19 situation in Taiwan is much better than the situation in China. As China has not allowed foreign students to return, more Chinese-language students would likely come to Taiwan if it timely opens its borders to them.
This is the perfect opportunity for Taiwan to push forward its policy.
At the symposium, Legislator Huang Kuo-shu (黃國書) of the Democratic Progressive Party said that Taiwan’s 62 Chinese-language centers last year contributed NT$11.4 billion to the nation’s GDP. Attracting new language students would help boost Taiwan’s economy.
In contrast, by not allowing language students to enter, language centers are likely to lose many potential students.
At the symposium, officials were in talks about distance-learning methods for Chinese-language education.
However, distance learning has proven to be less effective than in-person learning, especially for language students. Distance learning only allows for substandard conversational and listening practice, and does not allow students to experience living in Taiwan. Cultural immersion certainly boosts language-learning progress.
With the return of foreign students, there are concerns over potential imported COVID-19 cases. However, looking at how Taiwan has addressed the pandemic, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine, I believe that international students entering the nation would be in safe hands. Students could enter relatively safely and without posing a risk to local communities.
If COVID-19 is the main concern, the government should strengthen containment protocols, instead of barring language students from entering, sacrificing their education.
As an Indonesian student wishing to learn Chinese in Taiwan, it is frustrating to keep on being denied entry. I originally planned to start my studies this month at National Taiwan Normal University’s Mandarin Training Center.
Because I was not able to enter Taiwan, I withdrew my admission and started looking for another school. I have delayed my plans by one month and enrolled at Chinese Culture University’s Mandarin Learning Center for a course starting next month. I have made all the arrangements for my six-month stay in Taiwan, but still will not be able to enter the country.
Chinese-language students do not want to delay their studies any further. We hope that the MOE will allow our entry as soon as possible, and that the MOE and MOFA stop distinguishing between degree-seeking students and language students.
Jovita Kartika Tedja is a student at the University of Pennsylvania, a cofounder of the Jakarta Students’ Congress and has been awarded a CIMB ASEAN Scholarship for this year.
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