National Tsing Hua University and National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (NYCU) are two top universities in Hsinchu City’s East District (東區). For many years, they have been a talent pool for Taiwan’s high-tech industry, supplying the country with a never-ending stream of professionals.
Their education systems are self-perpetuating and sound, while the two institutes have stood out from the rest in the past few years. Despite this, potential concerns have them launching a new wave of student recruitment.
The potential problem was spotted by former NYCU president Frank Chang (張懋中), who also served as a chair professor in the electrical engineering department at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The Taiwan head of a world-class international software company asked him to guess how many of the company’s 3,000 Taiwanese employees were “product leaders,” Chang said.
Chang, intending to be humble, said “five,” but was surprised to hear that the answer was “zero.”
The main reason was that most Taiwanese only know how to answer questions, not how to ask them.
The company’s product leaders are mostly Israeli and Indian, as they have been taught from childhood how to ask questions.
After all, Albert Einstein once said: “The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.”
Einstein also said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Einstein proposed many creative ideas, mainly because he could formulate problems in his imagination. For example, consider his theory of relativity. It was the result of a thought experiment in which he used mathematical reasoning as a tool and the findings of other studies as references.
In Israel, teaching methods at all levels aim to put theory into practice by using real-life problems to stimulate students’ ability to imagine and think.
For example, water shortages in a desert environment and the issue of effective water use led Israel to invent the world-beating “drip irrigation” technique, turning the country into a kingdom of vegetables and flowers.
Since patenting the invention, Israel has been selling the technique worldwide. Such teaching imparts a “living education,” whereas in Taiwan, vehicle engineering graduates from a science and technology university cannot even change a tire.
Taiwan can always learn something from other countries — Israel has had 12 Nobel Prize winners over the past 20 years, although Israeli students rarely participate in scholastic competitions such as the International Olympiads in mathematics, physics and chemistry.
Israel’s percentage of start-ups is the third-highest in the world.
Taiwanese students should be encouraged to ask more questions and let their imaginations run wild, instead of training them to mechanically answer questions and turning them into “test-taking machines.”
Teng Hon-yuan is a professor at Chinese Culture University.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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