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'Student competitiveness gap' could be trouble for Taiwan
Publication Date : 18-09-2013
Cheng Cheng was born in a well-to-do family in Shenyang, mainland China. One day when she was in fourth grade, her mother, Mrs. Shen, told her that she was actually an adopted child, adding sternly that she would support her until college but no further.
After that fateful day 13 years ago, Cheng Cheng became another person. She lost her spoiled brat personality. She learned to be independent and diligent. Her academic performance improved drastically. After graduating from a university in Dalian with good grades, she was hired by a software company in Shanghai and has her own family.
Then Mrs. Shen told Cheng Cheng the truth: she is her biological mother after all. She lied in order to inspire her daughter to work hard, study well and get a good job.
Mrs. Shen was proud of her 13-year scheme. “Some people may not agree with my education method,” she was quoted by the mainland newspaper Xiandai Jinbao (Modern Golden News) as saying last Thursday. “But if I didn't spur her on like that, she wouldn't have had the heart to improve as she would have been satisfied with her family environment. She wouldn't have become the promising person she is now.”
The stories of spartan education regimes by no-nonsense mothers such as Mrs. Shen and Amy Chua (otherwise known as the Tiger Mom) capture the public imagination in the developed world as people feel both amazed and threatened by the rise of mainland China.
Taiwan recently had its Tiger Mom moment. At a forum on educational reform, Hsueh Cherng-tay, a professor at the National Taiwan University's department of sociology, described the obvious competitiveness gap between Taiwanese and Chinese students as “more frightening than (China) having 1,000 missiles targeting Taiwan.”
Hsueh said that Chinese university students have high attendance rates for morning classes, a sign of their active attitude toward learning, while many Taiwanese students tend to skip early classes.
Not surprisingly, Hsueh's “students scarier than missiles” argument attracted attention. While some scholars, including Hwang Kwang-kuo, a professor at NTU's Department of Psychology, and famous educator Professor Lee Chia-tung at National Chi Nan University, share Hsueh's concern, some experts argued that Hsueh's worry is misplaced. Chen Chao-lun, a professor and researcher at Academia Sinica, pointed out that mainland Chinese students are doing what Taiwanese students were doing 20 years ago. Taiwanese students have international perspective and are creative. Lai Ting-ming, president of Shih Hsin University, also voiced his support of local students, saying that the public should not rate them by their academic performance alone. Some commentators, including the local daily China Times, pointed out that Taiwanese students' main advantages are their creativity and flexibility.
While it is right to say that a student's worth should not only be weighed academically, Hsueh has highlighted a more profound problem among Taiwanese students. High class-attendance rates do not automatically translate to better grades and better grades do not necessarily mean better abilities. Showing up at morning classes regularly, however, is not just about good grades. It is a sign of commitment, aggressiveness, diligence and a healthy lifestyle.
That attitude, not academic performance, is the scary stuff.
Taiwanese students might be more creative but creativity alone does not success make. Taiwanese students might be more capable of thinking outside the box but thinking outside the box alone does not a trend set. Commitment and old-fashioned hard work are essential to convert great ideas into careers or empires.
Local businesses would probably agree. A 2011 survey by Cheers Magazine showed that 90 per cent of businesses interviewed said the quality of local college students has been dropping year by year. Most of the key problems for businesses have nothing to do with academic performance, they were related to a lack of communication skills, teamwork spirit and the ability to cope with pressure.
The class-skipping students Taiwan is producing, at least according to local businesses, are not the enterprising ones using their spare time to develop their own projects, to work with others or to otherwise train themselves.
A survey on consumer purchasing priorities related to education released yesterday showed that Taiwanese save the most for their children's education among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region. Taiwanese mothers and fathers are definitely not getting bang for their buck.