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John McNeil Scott
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Building Modern Schools: language and education when policy fails

With Dr Scott Sommers (Ming Chuan University, Taipei)

Series:  London Taiwan Seminar|

Date: Thursday 1 March 2007, 6pm-8pm

Venue: Room 116, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

Chair: Mr Stuart Thompson (Taiwan Culture Research Programme)

Abstract

Shortly after their surprise election in 2000, the DPP announced policies that would create for public schools classroom instruction and teacher training in local languages. Half a decade later, these policies have had almost no impact on the language economy of Taiwan. To illustrate why these policies have failed, this article describes the language economy of the ROC from the late Qing through the Republican Period and into the KMT's flight to Taiwan. It traces the failure of these policies to main 2 sources. The first of these has been the inability of the DPP to successfully professionalize schools. Under the KMT, teachers became so heavily politicized that some historians have referred to them as paramilitary. Despite the lifting of martial law and direct election of the president, education policy and schools have maintained many of their political functions. As a result of this, curriculum reform has maintained the heavy influence of political concerns rather than the professional concerns of teachers. Subsequently, curriculum has continued to lag far behind the educational needs expressed by stakeholders such as parents, students, and educators. But perhaps the most controversial aspect of this issue has been competition in the language market. In the past, much of the political troubles of schools involved the role of language of instruction. While previous conflict involved Mandarin and Hoklo, the current situation contrasts Hoklo with English. Hoklo language education programs have failed to attract public support among ethnic Taiwanese because Hoklo has remained largely a language of private use. For historical reasons, English has established itself in Taiwan as a language of high prestige. A vast market for English instruction has emerged that is aimed for the most part at the children of urban professionals. The efficacy of these programs is regarded as so powerful that they have threatened the legitimacy of public school curriculum. The call from Taiwanese parent's for more English instruction has prevented the spread of instruction in Hoklo and other local languages and reinforced the role of Hoklo as a language pf private use. This paper concludes with a discussion of this problem in light of emerging international trends in language education.

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