A few days ago, six academics in the fields of history, language and literature suggested that schools start collections of valuable books. This is an excellent idea.
More than a decade ago, a reading hall was set up in Sinyi Elementary School in Yunlin County’s Yuanchang Township (元長), and Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), who is now premier, attended the opening, bringing with him a truck full of books to donate to the collection.
The current reading hall, through the hard work of the school principal, Shih Li-ming (史利明), has been transformed into the Chhoa Chhiu-tong Literary Hall, named after Taiwanese writer Chhoa Chhiu-tong (蔡秋桐). There, the works of local writers from the past 100 years are collected, researched and published, while books and cultural objects related to the writers are put on display to convey something of what life would have been like at the time.
The hall focuses on Taiwanese literature and on Chhoa’s particular style of “reverse realism,” and informs about the influence and promotion in Yunlin of the Taiwanese Cultural Association, founded a century ago during the Japanese colonial period.
Three years ago, only one student graduated from Sinyi Elementary School. This year, there were seven. The school currently has 33 students, in six classes.
Sinyi is one of the almost 100 schools in this county with fewer than 50 students. There is therefore plenty of space for more schools in the future to develop and adjust how they are run, especially when the school principal has an aspiration to contribute more to the cultural wealth of the local community.
In Finland, all elementary-school teachers have a master’s degree. In Taiwan, many teachers have a master’s degree, and are cognizant of research methods and know how to design their own lessons.
If they could bring together local cultural assets — such as the Lungyan Sugar Factory Story House (龍嚴糖廠故事館), the Favorlang Story House (虎尾人故事館) in Huwei Township, the Yan Shi-chi Story House (顏思齊故事館) the Ko Tieh-hu Story House (柯鐵虎故事館) and the Chen Liang Story House (陳良故事館) — and transform them into themed galleries such as the Northern Lapwing Ecological Center of Shannei Elementary School in Yuanchang Township, they would be able to provide a variety of educational programs, and put together collections of books related to the sugar industry, local indigenous communities, the Japanese resistance and the struggle for Taiwanese independence.
These collections would not only enrich schools’ local teaching materials, they would also serve as a unique research platform specific to the local area, deepening research into and knowledge of local studies.
There are so many ways that schools can innovate, develop and transform to increase the contribution they make to the local community, especially in these times when they are faced with closure and falling student numbers.
Lin Wen-ping is a Yunlin County councilor.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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