Johan Gijsen is a Linguistics professor at I-Shou University in Taiwan. I guess the university was established after I left Taiwan because I had never been there. Anyway, he has written a few very interesting articles about Taiwan’s language education on his blog Talking Taiwanese. I enjoy reading his blog because he is not simply criticizing Taiwan’s education. He has also provided his theoretic and analytical viewpoints to suggest a constructive frame work and different feasible models for the language education in Taiwan. I sometimes leave my comments to offer him my two cents. I am pretty sure he will be thrilled to receive more comments from other readers who care very much about Taiwan’s language education. With his permission, I have linked his blog to mine. The following is my comments sent to him regarding his latest articles, University entrance admission practices and quality of education. I strongly recommend you to visit his blog and read this particular article before reading my comments. Thanks.
What you just posted about the reality in university is really new to me because it is very different from years ago when I went to university in Taiwan. Based on what you have described, now I have very grave concern about the quality of university education in Taiwan. Somehow, the education authority, either the MOE (Ministry of Education) or scholarly institutions, have some misconception about the role of a university. A university should be an institution of a higher esteem for specific theory and research study, which is different from a college or a regular high school, isn’t it? From what you have described about how the faculty tried to help students “catch up” with the standard in an English department screamed “high school” to me. That is what we do in public education- we help all students high or low to meet their individual needs with remedial support in order to pass on to the next level, either to a college or a university, because it is compulsory PUBLIC EDUCATION.
I would expect university students to have certain self-reliant discipline to function in a highly challenging academia. I call this maturity of self-discipline as positive “learning behavior” which requires independence and diligence. Students without this kind of adequate learning behavior would not and should not be ready for university study. Maybe they should not be there to begin with.
Many young adults here in Canada are going back to universities after years of working because they finally have the maturity and direction to pursue higher study. For the same token, many university grads are going back to college to learn practical skills in order to function in the trades or professional fields they are in. That is the distinction between skills and research study. I know all parents, regardless Taiwanese or Canadian, would hope to see their children go through university education. The truth is that not all students are cut out for the university route, and university is not the only way to get ahead in the world.
I disliked the old Taiwanese exam system but it certainly helped me and many “oldies” (not Me. Hahaha) establish a strong work ethics for later study. From my personal experiences, I don’t think Taiwanese students are smarter than students from any other country per se, but the discipline and work ethics that my Taiwanese schooling used to instill in me definitely helped me be able to level myself with my Canadian counterparts.
When I went to university, it was not easy to pass the entrance exam and the universities were few and far between in Taiwan. (I guess those are the so-called superior universities now.) If you were lucky to get in but you could not meet the standard required for the department, you would ultimately fail as well. You would either have to take the credit again or drop out. Even so, it was still considered as being relaxed for the university students, which was why we had a phrase then for the university as “let you play for four years”.
I assumed that once a student has been admitted to the university, he/she needs to establish the individual discipline required for the scholarly study. “Sink or float” is up to the individual because each academia has its own high standard to hold and no less would be accepted. I strongly believe that students do need guidance, but I am totally against this “dumb down” approach to help keep students stay in the university. No matter how much you help the students, the institution should not lower its standard to accommodate those who should not be there in the first place, and may be able to accomplish more in other fields otherwise.
I’ve heard from many people of the baby boomer generation who complained about the dwindling of Taiwanese quality university education. So, why wouldn’t the university weed out the students after admission or the freshman year? The drop-out rate is usually high at the first year of a Canadian or a US university, anyway. Does it all come down to the root of all evils - money? Universities need sufficient amount of funds from students’ high tuition to support the academia, so the more students the merrier? BTW, I am strongly against high tuition because the higher tuition may curb students of lower quality to opt out the university route but also block the opportunities for poor students of higher quality to entre a university.
I have many questions and I know you would have a different perspective from a Taiwanese teacher’s point of view because you have seen different education systems as a travelling scholar.
Shouldn’t the Ministry of Education set the number of students each year for the university’s admission based on the capacity and the needs for Taiwan, or the labor demands in Taiwan?
Shouldn’t each university set a bench mark for students’ admission instead of quota? I know for a fact that many Canadian universities are looking for students with community volunteer experience or social contribution as well as high academic performances. (I want a smart family doctor with compassion and social conscience as well. Hahaha.)
What if the university does not recruit sufficient number of students to meet the quota, would they then lower their standard again to admit more students with even lower quality to meet the quota?
Shouldn’t the faculty hold a set of high standard of expectations for students’ performances, or at least the minimum required standard?
Shouldn’t students exhibit certain level of discipline for scholarly study?
What would the university do if all efforts fail to ensure the student meet all levels of adequate learning behavior?
Should it be the university’s role to inform the general public (students and parents) that those students would be let go if they have not met the required expectations? (Money can not buy a degree. There is a distinction between a highly reputable university and a university mill.)
Are all universities conducting the same way in Taiwan, superior ones included, to help students who lack behind to graduate?
Oh, Heaven forbid. Don’t tell me it is the same for the graduate school students in Taiwan!  
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