Since the government launched its Bilingual 2030 policy, education workers at all levels have pointed out a great number of problems, believing the policy would only interfere with teaching and push education in the wrong direction. Many say that bilingual projects would cause “a two-fold deficiency” in disciplinary learning and language acquisition, and are demanding that the government immediately review the policy.
Regarding this issue, non-governmental organizations submitted a proposal on a public policy participation platform established by the National Development Council on April 7.
The proposal states that the Bilingual 2030 policy contravenes the principle of the Development of National Languages Act (國家語言發展法), and hence would only affect education in a negative way.
The proposal says that the Bilingual 2030 policy should be abolished to preserve Taiwan’s linguistic ecology and protect students’ right to education. In less than three days, 5,000 registered in support of the proposal.
Most of the supporters are education workers at all levels, including teachers of English or Mandarin-English bilingualism. They are far from the haters who would oppose the government’s policy for the sake of opposition. Their comments and suggestions are based on their teaching experience and professional interactions with students.
The Ministry of Education is expected to respond to the proposal with its usual cliches.
However, the ministry should consider why the policy has caused such a huge backlash.
The government needs to address at least the following issues in the Bilingual 2030 policy:
First, the policy is based on confusing values and has no clear orientation. A country’s language policy has everything to do with its national development and identity. Taiwan has never been an English-speaking country, nor has it been colonized by an Anglophone country.
Academics have ridiculed the Bilingual 2030 policy and for legitimate reasons, calling it a policy of self-colonization. Last year, the EU representative to Taiwan and other European diplomats in Taiwan submitted a joint letter to the government, protesting the policy. Even so, local officials continue to be obsessed with the English language.
The government keeps offering generous funds for new projects to consolidate English hegemony. For instance, the ministry has been subsidizing elementary and secondary schools to establish sister partnerships with schools in English-speaking countries.
Clearly, the ministry has excluded schools in non-English-speaking countries, completely deviating from the principle of international education in which multiculturalism and global understanding should be emphasized. Such an “international education” based on the Bilingual 2030 policy would only deprive Taiwanese of their own subjectivity. Is this the globalization that Taiwan needs?
Second, the language policies are disorganized and baffling. In the Development of National Languages Act, languages are not categorized as “first language” or “official language.” In other words, English is the same as all the other foreign languages.
However, English has become one of the two official languages in the Bilingual 2030 policy. It is as if the act and the policy exist in two different universes. A policy regarding national languages was enacted in 2019, but the government then overrode the act to promote the bilingual policy.
Can these contradictions embedded in these language policies be justified?
Third, the bilingual policy reveals how education has been appropriated for political goals. It is not unusual that education and politics go hand-in-hand. Political intervention in the educational system is far from surprising.
The instigator of the Bilingual 2030 policy is Vice President William Lai (賴清德). In 2014, when Lai was mayor of Tainan, he launched a 10-year plan called “English as the second official language.” His purpose was to transform Tainan into a bilingual city by 2024. Three years later, Lai became premier and turned his plan into a national policy.
Has Tainan become a bilingual city? Lai’s plan was actually regarded as controversial from the outset, but in spite of that, it soon became a significant policy nationwide.
As many bilingual projects are under way, it should be mentioned that the plan’s transformation to a national policy was not based on any existing laws, but only because Lai wanted it. Regrettably, the ministry has not only failed to curb political interference, but also lacks the professionalism to stop the ensuing problems.
Fourth, due to the misleading policy, teaching has become more chaotic than ever. Guided by the government’s policy, in addition to substantial subsidies provided by the ministry and local officials, “bilingual” is being used as a panacea for education.
The screening of teachers for elementary and secondary schools shows a tendency to catch the shadow while losing the substance. During the screening process, many are required to perform bilingual teaching and hence try to fake their abilities.
Today, even university professors have to deal with bilingual chaos: Some professors in Chinese literature departments are required to lecture in English.
Lastly, under the Bilingual 2030 policy, students are likely to become merely visitors to their classrooms.
Linguistic academics and education workers are raising the alarm, worrying that the already underprivileged students could become even more disadvantaged due to their lack of access to English. If so, this would definitely have a negative effect on compulsory education.
More questions should also be considered. Will the teaching of Mandarin and other national languages be overshadowed by English? How can education workers maintain the overall quality when teaching languages? Will the Bilingual 2030 policy increase the gap between city and rural areas, and accelerate divisions between different social classes?
English is important, but what should be focused on is the way in which English education can be effectively improved.
The train named “Bilingual 2030” has lost its way. For the sake of our next generation and the future of our nation, we should bravely call a halt to it.
Lo Te-shui is director of the National Federation of Teachers Unions’ Publicity Department.
Translated by Emma Liu
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