Any educational system has its flaws; therefore, Taiwan’s education system is not exceptional. I have heard that, after the last ten years of educational reform in Taiwan, the direction of education policies just got worse and the quality of education is dwindling on all levels. Apparently, universities are sprouting from all corners of Taiwan. The admission rate for university has been risen up to higher than 90%. I don’t know whether the rumor is a true reflection of the education reform since I have been absent from Taiwan for the past 17 years. Judging from the stories I have heard, I am not so sure that the “free-for-all” approach to admit as many students as possible is a good idea for betterment in education. I am just wondering if the drop-out rate for the first year university students is also high to sieve out students who are not really ready for the academia stream.
The proportion of labour forces in all fields has to be balanced in order to maintain a well functioning society. The training for all professional fields should not be limited to academia only. They should also include training for skilled trades and apprenticeship programs. Unfortunately, most parents, no matter in the East or the West, hope to send their children to higher education one day. The traditional Asian societies, under the deep-rooted Confucius influence, believe that a scholarly status is superior to a blue collar position. The fact is that we need people of all professions in a modern society. We probably need as many mechanics as mechanical engineers.
In fact, according a news report I read a few years ago, the only welder in one medical University made as much money as a dean in one year due to the strong demands for his service at the university. He was the only experienced welder the university could find in town; therefore, he had to work so much overtime to meet the demands. The news broke out because all public servants in Ontario who earned more than one hundred thousand dollars have to reveal their income level. The welder worked for the hospital attached to the university, so his name and income was listed. Unfortunately, if a teacher tells parents that their kid should take an apprenticeship program to become a welder or a mechanics, the teacher would definitely get a very negative response from the parents.
When I went to school, it was not easy to get into a university. We had to work so darn hard to take tests after tests to prepare for that entrance exam on that hot judgment day in July. Some people were really good at the book-learning; they would do well on those paper-pencil tests. However, their luck also depended on the blue moon. If you happened to be in a day of the bad moon arising, such as getting sick or having something out of ordinary happened to you, that day might just become your doom day in your destiny, at least the destiny for the next few years anyway.
One of the popular sayings before I went to university was:
University = Let you party for 4 years.
That meant, it was difficult for anybody to get into a university; however, once you were in, you were almost guaranteed to coast through the university and graduate in four years.
I would have believed those words if I did not go to a university! Unfortunately, I almost couldn’t get into one to begin with. So, once I was in, I really took the opportunity seriously and worked hard. In fact, I think my learning curve was on the rise when I was in the university. (Let’s hope that I have reached my plateau now and hopefully will stay hanging on the plateau for a while. He.he.he.) I guess, with my stubbornness, I needed that kind of pressure-free academic environment for my learning. I also learned a lot from the leadership training I took at the university. The university just suited my personal learning style according to Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligences theory. (Note 1) In addition to that ivy tower atmosphere, I was suddenly matured enough to realize the importance of pursuing a higher education for myself, not for anybody else. (Learning is all developmental.) Plus, being lucky enough to go to school with the loan from my grandparents, I had to cherish the opportunity.
Don’t quote me on this one, but I believe the university admission rate was around 30% for my generation. I am not so sure about the drop-out rate for the university freshmen then. However, I hardly ever heard about people dropping out of school. The entrance exam had weeded out some students who might not be ready for heavy-loaded academic study. Unless, you were out of line and skipped too many classes, it was not easy to get kicked out of school basically. On that note, some of my acquaintances at school did have that kind of playful attitude and party mood all the time at the university. They were late for school or skipped classes often. They crammed only before term exam. So, for them, the university degree, after four years of precious time and money, was merely a piece of paper to put on the resume. The money and time would be totally wasted to send a student to go through a university education. 
I hope the newly established Taiwanese universities have tightened their quality control for the first year university students. It may be all right to admit a tremendously high number of university students, but the quality control throughout the university years should be closely monitored and enforced. In Ontario, the first year university drop-out rate is up to 30%. The universities should hold an ethical stand to ensure all students are meeting the academic requirement. My generation of students might not be smarter than the students now, but only the top third of student population could go the university. Now the opportunities for higher education are conveniently available for almost all students. If the students now still hold the same attitude, “Let’s party for four years,” as some students of my generation had, our Taiwanese higher education may be in trouble. The title for the university degree will be truly in name only
I know most parents want their children to go to the university and all my words for this article would simply go to deaf ears. The problem lies not only in the parents’ perception. The perception of our society also believes a person without a university degree is not competent enough for a job. Traditionally, under the Confucius influence, our society has always valued higher education in great deal, and believes the university is an entry level for one’s future. We need to have a better understanding of the important value and places of skilled trades training in a college and academic theory bound study and research in a university. It is not easy to convince the parents or the general population that both educational streams should have equal value and place in our education system. If the society continues to hold the perception of “scholar supreme over skilled trades”, our education system, despite the mighty education reform, will continue to dig deeper into the muddy quick sand.
Note: Howard Gardener is a professor at Harvard University. His theory on multiple intelligences has challenged the traditional perception on measuring intelligence with one single measure, such as the IQ tests. For those students who seem to be fairly bright but do not excel on traditional paper and pencil tests, he offered explanation for teachers to understand those students who somehow thrive in many other areas. Teachers should look at what the students could do well, instead of what they could not do.

Bad Moon Rising   by CCR

Have You Ever Seen the Rain  by CCR
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My Corner for Education

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