During the spring break, the courtyard at the high school had a facelift. Fully mature trees were planted in the places where small bushes had previously grown. These trees give some shade and beautify the area.
A group of foreigners, two Americans, a Canadian, a Brit, and a New Zealander were recently discussing and bemoaning the education system here in Taiwan. Four of them have young children, aged six months to six years. They were debating the pros and cons of education methods here in Taiwan and in their respective homelands. One of the consistent and overwhelming points that came up again and again, was that children here simply have too much pressure and not enough time to simply “mess about”. Education in Taiwan is still, to a large extent, based on Confucian values. It is test based and relentless. Children as young as six are taught that tests are essential and that they are in direct competition with their classmates. Failing to achieve 95% to 100% can result in the withdrawal of privileges at home or punishment, sometimes physical.
One of the Americans explained that he planned to move back to the States because of the educational culture here in Taiwan. He wanted his children to, “have a life, not just an education.”
Students often arrive at school at around 7:30 and leave around 4pm. But that’s not the end of the school day for many students. Directly from school they go to cram schools where they eat dinner, write homework or attend English classes, math classes, science and so on. This is not the exception. It’s the rule. This does not happen in Britain, North America, or the Antipodes. Many of these young people don’t get home until 9pm or later. Often they have to attend classes during vacations and on weekends. For many foreigners this is almost a form of cruelty. These young learners arrive home exhausted, often have more homework to complete, and arrive at school the following day with bags under their eyes, yawning and ready to sleep. Of course they cannot. They must plod along, grit their teeth, and study again.
To what end? It seems that much of what is crammed into their brains to pass a test is often quickly forgotten after the event. Many students will testify to this.
The high school at the CTBC International Academy, however, does not put such huge stress on its students. Instead, education focuses on project-based learning, question and answer, creative writing, research-based exercises, speaking in public, analyzing data, critical thinking and more.
The principal at CIA recognizes a need to, if not change, then at least offer alternative approaches to education. He uses, among others, the Finnish model of education. This is a revolutionary system and the results are impressive. Students in Finland are among the highest achievers in the world. Not only that though – they are almost the happiest. This is the key. Education should be fun! It shouldn’t be dreaded, a task, a chore, a Sisyphean nightmare of endless tests, endless hours sitting behind a desk listening to a teacher who is often regurgitating facts from a textbook.
Yes, the Academy students get homework, but that homework is designed to provoke and encourage them to research the topic, to use their imaginations, to delve a little deeper into the subject. It is when we choose to learn and discern interest in matters hitherto unknown that we truly gain knowledge. True knowledge lasts a lifetime and helps us in all aspects of our lives. CIA is committed to finding new paths to encourage students to ‘learn for life’ – not just the next test.
Emma Hsu practicing her beautiful, wooden xylophone
Paul Huang getting some extra algebra tuition