In 2017, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) set a goal to turn Taiwan into a bilingual nation by 2030. The policy has been criticized by teachers’ groups, who called for the policy’s termination, as many students had difficulty understanding the teacher’s explanation in English. Consequently, teachers would first teach in English, then repeat lessons in Chinese, which has doubled their workload.
The National Federation of Teachers’ Unions and other groups have found issues with the policy and appealed to the Ministry of Education (MOE).
However, the MOE refused to directly address the issues brought to their attention in its reply on July 14. The four presidential candidates have also failed to answer whether there would be a continuation or termination of the bilingual program in primary and secondary schools.
People with a fair amount of knowledge of the educational system would understand the impracticalities of English-only instruction at primary and secondary schools. It is hard to fathom why the MOE did not conduct the simple experiment of asking a teacher to explain basic mathematics to classrooms in English before pushing for the policy. After this experiment, officials would have realized how unrealistic it is to provide English-only instruction at primary and secondary schools.
The government needs to be aware that primary and secondary-school students rely heavily on textbooks; listening to teachers and taking notes does not benefit their education. For example, students would not be able to learn fractions properly without doing textbook exercises. The government should provide primary-school students with English editions of textbooks if they wish to implement an English-only learning environment.
However, even if students receive English textbooks, should their education be focused on English or math? While an English textbook containing a lot of vocabulary is to be expected, there is understandable doubt as to whether there are enough officials in the MOE capable of writing a primary-school math textbook in English.
In the 1990s, Taiwan once adopted reform mathematics as a new curriculum. The approach was dropped as results showed huge drops in students’ math performance, and it became one of the most controversial policies in the reform scheme. Educational reform should not turn schools into labs and students into lab rats, as bad policies could harm children’s education, even beyond school years.
The government’s intention to continue promoting bilingual education in primary and secondary schools is baffling. Perhaps it believes this policy can improve the students’ performance in physical education, music, history or Chinese, or boost their English proficiency.
Yet, anybody with some common sense would know that this could not be achieved with the bilingual policy.
Any respectable company launching new technology would not do so without first running tests. The company’s engineers would first do them to ensure that the technology works before publicly releasing it. When the MOE is pushing for an education policy, did it conduct trials like a technology company before launching the program?
MOE officials should take a page from technology companies and analyze how they put new technologies on the market. Any new technology is not introduced on the whims or preference of a high-ranking supervisor without prior experiments or tests.
The government’s bilingual policy is absurd. The government should terminate it immediately so that no more students become lab rats and sacrifice their learning experience to a bad policy.
Lee Chia-tung is an honorary professor at National Tsing Hua University.
Translated by Rita Wang
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