Having taught at pretty much all age groups throughout Taiwan’s educational spectrum, I believe that there are six axioms that pretty much inform ALL of Taiwan’s educational philosophy in the 21st Century. Whether any of these is relevant for Taiwan in the 21st Century is entirely another question.
1. To learn it you MUST memorize it. To memorize the lesson regardless of whether it is a meaningful thing to do is the ONLY sign that you have learned something, that you have been processed by the school system, that you have listened to the teacher…
2. More is always better, esp. when it means more hours, more quizzes, more practice exercises… but more does not usually extend to the idea of more teachers or more qualified teachers or more experienced teachers or more higher quality teaching in the classroom. Oh, and let’s have the teacher copy the entire lesson FROM the book, handouts and all, as well.
3. Oh, it’s good enough! If you live in Taiwan, you probably already know the phrase in Chinese. This also extends to a kid’s education, no matter how old he or she is. He’s studied English for three years, his grades are good now. It’s good enough… No matter that in six months’ time, said kid will be struggling to keep up or even maintain what he learned.
4. Don’t read any books but your school books! Seriously, I’ve heard parents say this to their children, and children report this to me in class on MANY occasions. Needless to say, these kids often have NO other books at home but school books, can’t read any form of books (even a comic book) as it’s considered a waste of time (school time! see Rule #2) and a waste of money (what are you reading that book for? It’s not even in the test…)… God forbid that you should learn ANYTHING without the teacher’s sanction.
5. I paid for it so I should get it! When education is traded for cash, as is often the case in Taiwan and many other developed countries, too. Often the purchasers think they are buying hours in the class, scores in the quiz, a graduation or course completion certificate, etc.. It rarely occurs to many participants that it’s possible they may not meet the requirements of the course. They didn’t come, didn’t hand in assignments, didn’t complete coursework. Never matter, I paid for the course. So graduate me, NOW!
6. Multiple-Choice Rules! Multiple choice is of course the way to test knowledge thoroughly, and saves a lot of effort in grading because you either KNOW the answer or you don’t! It also helps to ascertain that you have reached the accredited standard and your results are directly comparable to every other student in the class/form/grade/school/system…
Naturally, I’m at pains to point out the flaws in my own country’s education system, esp. in subjects like Math. But that doesn’t mean that I should approve of all of these ‘benefits’ of the Taiwanese system. I rather think points 5 and 6 are increasingly common in the UK, too.
But what frustrates me in Taiwan is that teachers often fail to see the importance of education to reach out and make a real DIFFERENCE in the lives of the people we serve – our students. So I hesitate to teach in the Taiwanese system any more. I really feel there are better ways to make that difference… through speaking out. Through writing. Through telling people.