108 Curriculum- Current predicaments in English Learning
70 years. Yes, this is how long Taiwan has been committed to English education. For many adults, starting from junior high school, they have at least six years of learning English. As for children nowadays, most of them start their long path of English learning as early as elementary school. When one steps into society, the time span of English learning goes up to over ten years, with uncountable money and tremendous effort devoted. As most people would expect, Taiwanese English should be above the average of other countries of non-native speakers. Yet, things are just the reverse. According to global research done in 100 non-English speaking countries, the general English ability of Taiwan has gone down steadily to 38 in 2018 (EF EPI 2018), behind Mainland China and South Korea. Numerous private language institutions and cram schools have sprung up and students’ pressure has never seemed to be been abated, not to mention parents’ anxiety and the official’s burden. What in the world can one endeavor to learn for ten years but fail? What, in the end, is the real problem of Taiwanese English education? In this essay, I will point out the problems I see in 108 Curriculum English, based on my experience of tutoring and working in cram schools.
108 Curriculum of English education is a huge topic. To analyze, we can see from the pros and cons of this new policy, as well as the roles of parents, students, and the government. In that education has never been a unilateral problem but an imbroglio implicating outer influences, more aspects should be taken into consideration.
The advantage of the 108 Curriculum, compared with the former, is obvious. Students will no longer simply memorize vocabulary for tests and forget them once they leave schools, for which the old curriculum is mostly denounced. The planned progress, if students act accordingly, ought to cater to the future trend in modern days, thereby stimulating the general competitiveness of Taiwan.
The day when students painfully instilling thousands of words is over. In the future, English classes focus more on combinations of different subjects, such as history, mathematics, science, etc. The ability to solve problems is the upper hand which the students can acquire from schools, far from the inability of adapting to the social environment before. For instance, while most classes when I was in high school aimed at the use of words, phrases, and grammar, classes now link to cases in day-to-day life through English, such as news or personal hobbies, which students mostly find more intriguing. When ones’ passion is ignited, learning is no longer arcane vocabulary and intricate grammar; rather, it is the process of inquiring knowledge with learning happening synchronously.
Meanwhile, electives, optimally, are free space saved for students to delve into their interests, meaning that they learn with curiosity. In lieu of comparatively tedious materials beyond one’s interest, students go deeper into sport English, mythology, exotic cultures, and so on. Outside of classrooms, learning may still go on inside each passionate mind. This is the main goal of the new curriculum and the eventual aim of education. Only when one’s interest has been attached enough importance to can students’ individuality stand out. When a student graduate, their experience in schools become their lifelong ability the traditional education is unable to give.
Lastly, the diversity of learning is a huge advantage for students in the future. Learning not only English, which is more of a tool rather than a skill but also skills from various domains is essential in the future world.
On the other hand, the disparity between the plan and the reality is still left for improvement; namely, there are obstacles not supposed to be taken lightly. Although the new program focuses on the ability of application and flexibility, a few learning steps are omitted, such as background knowledge. In the following paragraph, I have enumerated the major problems of the new curriculum I have witnessed in the year of teaching.
What is expected is far cry from what is happening right now in classrooms- the gap between students’ English ability is too big. To exemplify, when I was part-timing in one mid-sized traditional cram school, there were junior high school students who even have a problem memorizing 26 English letters, and that is in a city. I can hardly imagine what it is like in distant areas of Taiwan. Meanwhile, pupils of wealthier backgrounds finish learning grammar and vocabulary of junior high school even before the entry of it. Seeing this, I doubt how the government can ensure the viability of the project, and how, after all, they can assure parents of the school education?
Also, creative thinking, spontaneous learning, and individuality are all just vague and beautiful letters, which both students and parents find hard to follow and assess. Interacting with senior high school students, I was not surprised to see lots of them, not the very few haranguing on the media about how positive the new classes are, appear to be lost. Of course, those sitting on the decision-making table who never walk into a real classroom wouldn’t know this but are satisfied with their so-called “educational reformation”, flawed obviously. Seeing changes made and the eulogies written on the media, it seems to me that some teachers and the government officials are bewitching themselves as if they had made changes and students were improving.
Electives are not serving their full function but oppositely undermining student’s general English ability. That is, the time for both English classes and outside materials is both far less than enough. The original purpose is fostering student’s ability to think and allow more time to explore, hoping that to adopt English speaking and willing to express their ideas, but there is no enough time. For instance, when I was in senior high school, we had five to six English classes, inclusive of supplementary classes; now, however, those of senior high school have been lessened to four English classes a week, with the extra time saved for elective classes. It turns out that time for both parts, basic learning and extra classes, is not enough. Some hold that the interest in different subjects will push students to learn themselves; however, that is the rarest quality only seen in very few but not the whole student body.
Ideal may the new curriculum seems, I concur on the original motive too, what I witness is just the opposite. To illustrate, some public schools provide optional classes of other languages aside from English, such as Japanese or Korean, and give the young more time to “explore”. The real problem is, what can a fifty-minute Japanese class a week teaches students and will they learn spontaneously? Honestly speaking, they are not going to be Japanese experts just because of one class a week, nor will they become proficient in any subjects simply on their own. Instead, their English ability has gone down, and so are other major subjects. So far, students seem to have known everything- they have sundry electives to take-but actually know very little. With scarce dedication and little time investment in a single domain, it is of no use learning, let alone applying.
Core competencies, as highlighted in the 108 Curriculum, is more of an omission of the learning process. The idea of the new policy is to have students foster the ability to collect, differentiate, organize, analyze, and ideally apply the information in real life. Though it is positive, most students haven’t yet nurtured this sort of ability. I consider that the application of knowledge should be preceded by a few years of studying what is traditionally dubbed “fixed and dead knowledge” and later learn to capitalize on the is to solve problems at last. The education method the state is putting the cart before the horse. Emphasizing thinking and flexibility, they care less about the fundaments. learning is like building; those who neglect the foundation of a building would never be able to build a skyscraper but a bungalow, and even some are struggling with the basement. To be exact, what the government is doing is making chicks fly when their wings are still fragile, or asking toddlers, who cannot even stand, to run. In the end, once students fail, they are very likely to collapse and abandon themselves. In short, despite the positive idea of the application of knowledge, the fundamental part of learning cannot and should not be ignored.
Moreover, the college entrance exam still exists to burden students and open new gates for after-school programs. Under the stress of parents and tests, so-called electives have become self-learning or classes of quizzes, which, absurdly, may even be a positive situation. To extremes, a lot of students just dilly-dally in the extra time and give up their resting space to cram schools or after-school programs. At this, parents, obviously concerned with children’s education, are becoming tenser each year with the government’s ever-changing policy. The misgivings, in my opinion, is the reflection that people no longer trust the government. Schooling has lost a part of its function in Taiwan and if this goes on, parents trust private programs outside of school more but not the class of a school itself. Take my students as examples, half of them opt out of the eighth session of the school to come to private institutions, which costs far higher. As for those of better economic conditions, the easier way out is a private school, which runs at their own pace regardless of all education reformation. That’s the reason why the enrollment rate of leading private schools, in the teeth of low birth rate and high tuitions, remain incredibly high. At the end of the day, children of families unable to afford exorbitant tuitions generally perform behind others, deepening the gap of social classes consummated by the government. A failure to allay parents’ doubt is the failure of the teaching system. Should one day education become a prerogative of the well-off, education will no longer be education.
The reduction of standard vocabulary is another huge issue. Some may argue that the required English words of high school have been lightened from 7000 to 4500, whereby the college entrance test is made easier. However, it doesn’t mean the other 2500 words disappear. They may still be tested in the reading parts as additional information students are required to learn. So what is the meaning of the reduction of vocabulary? Furthermore, when stepping into colleges, young learners face original texts which contain not the gentle 4500 words but ferocious academic terminologies, which even students adapting to 7000 words find overwhelming. How can students continue learning when they even have a problem reading? Admittedly, 7000 words are demanding; nonetheless, so long as people can read and understand more than 5000 words, they are naturally more advantageous than students learning only 4500. Setting the bar high at the stage of high school for the sake of the college, to me, is a lot more important than highlighting spontaneous learning. What high school education is now disregarding is the significance of literacy, which, in colleges, cannot be emphasized enough.
In Taiwan, the idea of higher education is deeply entrenched in people’s opinions, which has always been a controversy. Parents usually want their kids to be either lawyers, teachers, or doctors. The government is now focusing on the agility of children’s mindset and personal characteristics, endeavoring to diminish student’s pressure. Nevertheless, this takes time the society needs to adjust and new teachers have to be trained. Applying what a person has learned, in reality, is an ideal goal and how to foster students’ ability in thinking is the biggest problem in the system. Lacking time in adjustment will at last lead to the loss of students, teachers, and the whole country. Jumping from the most traditional learning environment, focusing on vocabulary and grammar, to the new model, which focuses more on core competencies, is a huge stride and I think more time and flexibility are needed. I suppose the new curriculum should be more explained to the public, in the interim, more teachers should be more trained. This process may take years, but it is necessary. Unfortunately, the government has discounted the reality.
The long term goal of English education in Taiwan, together with 108 Curriculum, is developing Taiwan into a bilingual country by 2030. Frankly speaking, it is very unlikely that people can make it in the left ten years. The definition of a bilingual country is that everyone is able to speak English in everyday life, including little children and elders. Not to mention the younger generation, even the adults have problems with English. Of course, saying beautiful slogans and drawing promising vision simple, but ask yourself: Are you able to understand a whole English conversation? Can you interact and answer the questions of the foreigners? Are you, after all these years of learning English, confident in your English? If one of the answers to these questions is no, are we still living in the bubble of dreams and idealism? Are we still lying to ourselves that the new program can create a better future for the next generation?
So far, a few professionals have listed out a few points, some even say the new curriculum shouldn’t even be put into practice. They are all worth consideration. The most viable one, I believe, is to explain the new curriculum to the public especially worrying parents and students; while more teachers have to be trained simultaneously. Since the project has been put into practice, what matters is no longer debating over the rights and wrongs of the plan but how it can be improved and in what way students can be helped.
As all the above ideas mentioned, I feel concerned about the prospect of the new curriculum which no one can feel complacent about. Notwithstanding the advantages and positive changes of 108 Curriculum, many related issues are still left to be solved. There shouldn’t be more beautiful languages; rather, the key is admitting that virtual progress is not being made according to the plan. For the better future of the next generation, it is time that people came down to earth and thought with practicality.