A Hong Kong student enrolled in a master’s program in Kaohsiung Medical University’s Department of Psychology reportedly complained by e-mail to the university’s president and more than 100 staff members that an assistant professor surnamed Su (蘇) did not offer courses as advertised in English, saying that Su’s English was poor. Su reacted by filing a lawsuit against the student for damaging his reputation, and the Kaohsiung District Court ruled that the student must pay the professor NT$70,000 in compensation.
Taiwan has been promoting “bilingual education” in Chinese and English since former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration, encouraging schools to offer all-English courses.
In my experience, all-English courses at Taiwan’s top universities have not been as effective as expected, and the Kaohsiung case serves as an example.
Although some professors in the department where I teach are capable of teaching their subjects in English, some students each semester complain in teachers’ evaluations that the instructions, despite eloquently communicated, confuse them.
Teaching academic subjects in English might help students enhance their listening skills, but if it impedes their understanding of the subject matter, does that not go against the purpose of bilingual education?
The administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in 2018 proposed a policy to turn Taiwan into a bilingual nation by 2030 and spelled out measures in the category of “human resources infrastructure for nurturing talent and boosting employment” in the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program to be implemented between this year and 2024.
On paper, the measures seem to be well considered, but in reality, the resources available at the K-12 Education Administration and local governments’ education bureaus for implementing them fall far short of what is needed.
Vice President William Lai (賴清德) vigorously promoted bilingual education during his terms as Tainan mayor. The city divides elementary schools into three categories, with English education making up one-third, one-sixth or one-ninth of total class hours.
The success of the program is yet to be seen.
I am no expert on language education, but I remember that as a child, I started school without knowing a word of Chinese.
My school, including teachers and teaching materials, provided a comprehensive environment for language acquisition, and I learned Chinese naturally.
Tsai’s bilingual education plan should start from the roots and focus on preschools and elementary schools.
Enrollment rates and teaching outcomes at the nation’s bilingual elementary schools are mostly satisfactory.
In the Washington Bilingual Elementary School in Taichung, first and second graders have 20 hours of English instruction per week so that they spend four hours each day, or half of all school hours, in an immersive English-language environment.
Third and fourth graders have 15 hours of English instruction per week, and fifth and sixth graders have 14 hours, while all other classes are taught in Chinese.
The local governments should learn from this example, and the central government should provide subsidies for public elementary schools to increase class hours in English. It should learn from bilingual elementary schools, provide adequate teaching materials and employ more qualified teachers.
If it can implement a curriculum in 2023 that is better suited for bilingual education, Taiwan is likely to achieve its goal of becoming a bilingual nation by 2030.
Huang Rongwen is a professor at National Changhua University of Education.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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