A misguided target
I am again sorely disappointed by the Ministry of Education’s attempts to reform English-language course offerings at universities (“Ministry to push English at universities,” Oct. 4, page 1). This gimmicky move is reminiscent of the well-intentioned but vacuous goal to promote Chinese-English bilingual education before 2030.
While globalizing by increasing the use of English at universities is indeed a possibility for Taiwan, this current approach is haphazard and inarticulate. The ministry is taking a top-down approach starting with higher education instead of elementary and secondary levels, which is problematic as professors cited in the article have pointed out.
The ministry seems to think that it can attract foreign lecturers or foreign students on a whim simply by implementing a policy here or there.
The National University of Singapore took decades building up its reputation. That was concurrent with the Singaporean government’s educational policies to make English the default mode of communication in the city-state as well as economic policies to attract investment and talent from multinational companies.
With the uncertainties around COVID-19 and increasing global tensions, the ministry’s goals seem too optimistic.
The government needs to think carefully about what it wants. Which demographic of international students is it targeting? Or is it contriving this goal simply to attract attention? It seems so.
There is also the problem of social equity. Why is the ministry investing in programs in higher education when the country fails to give most of its citizens at least a second language level in English (similar to many European countries or India)? Will English-taught degree programs exacerbate inequities of the education system?
It is no secret that Taipei and maybe Hsinchu or Kaohsiung would first get the funding, not to mention that foreigners typically only live in these cities.
I was privileged when I was selected for a bilingual education program at a public elementary school. How will the ministry ensure that universities, and more broadly the education system, provide these programs fairly?
English is a valuable asset to any individual in an economic sense. As a student in Singapore, I can see first hand how any attempt at a truly bilingual education for a vast proportion of the population is unattainable.
Two languages at native level is inherently an unstable equilibrium. Over time, one language will be favored, and in Singapore’s multiracial and international society, that language is English, the only lingua franca.
Taiwan has been promoting this language for a while now. It is time for the government, and society as a whole, to take a step back and think carefully about what role they want English to play in the future of Taiwan.
Jia Cheng Shen
Defense starts at home
In early July, Enoch Wu (吳怡農), deputy chief executive of the New Frontier Foundation, a Democratic Progressive Party think tank, hit a snag after criticizing the annual Han Kuang military exercise, saying it is just “for show.” Recently, he has also been criticized for proposing that recruits should be able to do their military service at home.
Taking a closer look at Wu’s proposal, it is not difficult to see that he meant that soldiers should build defense capabilities in their hometowns during both peacetime and wartime. That might have been lost in the ensuing oversimplification of the issue, but the original intention was good. Although the proposal might not be practical, there is no need for excessive criticism of Wu.
The proposal was made in an joint op-ed by Wu and former chief of general staff admiral Lee Hsi-ming (李喜明) in the Apple Daily on Oct. 9.
In the article, titled “Reserve forces transformation: The building of homeland defense forces,” they said that Sweden has distributed a leaflet, titled “If crisis or war comes,” to the Swedish public to help them understand how to prepare, and that Taiwan must adjust its voluntary military system.
Next, they explained the idea of an “all-out defense,” saying that the reservist call-up system is not enough to resist the powerful military threat from the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
Finally, they advocated building a homeland defense mechanism, proposing that the reserve forces take responsibility for safeguarding their communities and hometowns.
Looking at the article, it was simply an extension of the idea that defense starts at home, and the Ministry of National Defense should use the op-ed as a reference when formulating a reservist policy.
However, Wu should engage in some self-reflection. Having served as an officer and being involved in national defense matters, he should not have called the Han Kuang exercise a show.
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