'New' Curriculum Ideas for Taiwan

Dear Taipei Times,
I am a lecturer at National Taiwan University (NTU), but I also have had the opportunity to teach toddlers, elementary, high school and college students over the past two years.

Regarding English instruction, it seems a pity that only parents who can afford Ivy-League tuition rates can give their children English instruction from an early age. If the administration desires a bilingual population, English should be a standard part of Taiwan’s national curriculum as early as pre-school or kindergarten, and with no bureaucratic obstacles.

By raising a generation of bilingual Taiwanese students, the human resources of Taiwan would be increased a thousandfold. The need for bilingual Chinese and English speakers will only increase exponentially in the future.

It is a myth that children cannot learn both languages simultaneously, and at an age like pre-school they can learn basic conversational English simply through play while they are still blissfully unaware of concerns like competitive academic achievement.

Next I want to address the issue of “In what context should we teach Taiwanese history?” Currently, even NTU students rarely know much about this rich and fascinating subject. They just learn about China, and still memorize dry facts about every Chinese province.

One suggestion for developing a history curriculum is to take Taiwan’s demographics into account. History books could still begin with the earliest civilizations and their accomplishments in China, but then move on to a section on Taiwan specifically. Then they could show how immigration developed from Fukien Province, from where a large majority of Taiwanese came.

Contemporary accounts, such as Formosa Under the Dutch and Out of China (Jong He’s travels in Taiwan), or Through Formosa (an Englishman’s account of Taiwan under the Japanese), could give an interesting and fairly accurate picture of Taiwan. Then of course it would only be fair to have a unit to discuss the Aboriginal groups in Taiwan. Asian and world history can be incorporated through the colonizing influence of the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Japanese and the Chinese.

Lastly, I think the national conference on high school curriculum being held in Taipei is making a mistake by modeling Taiwanese education on that of the West by separating students into arts or science specializations. Education would best serve students’ interests by allowing them to specialize in two subjects, one in arts and one in sciences.

In the West we create one-sided citizens specializing in one area, when in fact we all are capable of excelling in a combination of subjects in both areas. For example, a person who cannot fathom chemistry may actually excel in physics.

To limit students to one focus would exclude them from areas of study that would benefit them. Imagine that in a well-rounded education, artists also could master a “scientific” field like computer programming.

By allowing multiple specializations, Taiwan’s schools would better prepare students to excel in a variety of areas, and this would give them more qualifications in their chosen field.

This is a critical time for a truly holistic education to be developed in Taiwan.

Trista di Genova
National Taiwan University

First published Saturday, Apr 24, 2004, Page 8, Taipei Times

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