What is the purpose of education, in your opinion?
Or a happy life?
What dose our education from elementary school to university mean exactly?
We (Taiwanese students) took exams, small tests or big exams every month, every week, even every day sometimes.
Every test or exam were evaluated to be a number from 0 to 100 with interval of 1 point.
Students were ranked on a chart at the end of each semester.
Competition decides who gets higher rank on the chart.
Competition decides who enters better university.
Competition decides who gets a position in a better company.
Competition decides titles and salary.
When “Competition” is the central philosophy of a society to evaluate a person, the society tends to see “Result of competition” rather than “Practical ability”.
In another word, in a society whose axis is on competition, we don’t look at people themselves, and instead of that, we look at their grades, name of their universities and the title of their jobs.
Can we understand the problem through foreign language education comparison?
In Taiwan, we start to study English from junior high school compulsorily.
Then, how did we evaluate the English capability of our students?
Was it “Communication capability in English”?
Or, “The capability to pick up correct English word and grammar”?
(Unfortunately, it is the later one)
And, what has it brought us?
TOEFL may not be the best way to evaluate English ability, but it’s one of the most widely accepted language test for international students and immigrants in major English-speaking countries. Maybe we could try to take it as a reference.
I was born and raised up in Taiwan, stayed in Japan for a long time and now living in Finland. Let’s take a look at these 3 countries.
TOEFL iBT is composed of 4 parts: listening, reading, writing and speaking. Each part counts for 30 points and 120 points in total.
TOEFL iBT average points in 2015
By the way, Singapore is 97, where English is an official language.
Apparently, the difference is huge.
Some people may think that Finnish (an original language used in Finland) is originally from Latin language system, so it’s easier for Finnish people to learn English.
However, interestingly, when I learned Finnish in Finland, I realized that Finnish language is totally different from English except the alphabet. No matter in vocabulary or grammar, 95% of them are different from English. (Swedish or Spanish are much closer to English. By the way, Finnish seems to belong to Ural language system.)
Of course, the reasons that caused this kind of huge difference wouldn’t be simple, but this article tries to analyze the potential reasons through the angle of our language education.
How different is it in Taiwan and Finland: language education?
Please let me simply describe how I learned English in Taiwan and learned Finnish in Finland as your reference.
In Taiwan, “Grades of exams” is the only way to evaluate Students’ capability in English. There was no any speaking or listening tests. (This is my own experience. Very ironically, my first English speaking test was done for IELTS, when I was 33 years old…after studied English for 20 years….)
English exams in schools are: “Fill in correct words”, “Choose correct grammar” or “Translate this sentence to English/Chinese”, etc.
Frequency of exam is…..3 big exams in a semester, which means 6 big exams in a year. Small tests are countless…too many…..
Under this education, I realized that I can’t speak English at all when I first time stepped into a English conversation class after studied English for 6 years. (Of course, I went to private conversation class because I can’t speak English)
The language education in Finland is on the contrast.
I learned Finnish in a university, took 10 ECTS and went to classes 6 hours per week for 7 months.
The very interesting things are: “Only 1 final exam in each semester”, “The exam is composed of listening, speaking, writing and reading parts even in the very beginning course” and “The course focuses on practical usage. Vocabulary and grammar are also taught but more like an assistant part”.
Please allow me distracting a little bit from our main issue. My mother tongue is Mandarin. Based on my experience in learning foreign languages, no matter it’s English or Japanese, it’s always a long long way to be fluent in a foreign language. It could commonly take 2 years to become comfortable in daily conversation in a foreign language, if you just started to learn it. (Of course, the time needed depends on how many hours you spend everyday. If you spend 8 hours every day, maybe you can be fluent in daily conversation in a foreign language in just 6 months.) If you don’t have enough time every day or week, it may even take as long as 5 years to be comfortable in daily conversation.
In such a long long way in language study, I never felt it an interesting thing to memorize vocabulary or grammar, no matter it’s English or Japanese. Then you can imagine how boring it is to keep memorizing vocabulary and grammars for years.
Besides the boring studying part of this learning process, how could we even add thousands of tests in it to make it not just boring but even stressful to students? How could our students be interested in learning a foreign language like that? No even to mention that we have very few chances to use English in our living environment in Taiwan.
Let’s get back to the topic and have a look at how language is done in Finland.
“Let student use it” is placed at the center of language education in Finland, even from the very beginning of a language course
In the class, grammar was taught just as in Taiwan, but students won’t remember new grammar right away. It’s also very boring to study it at home. So the teacher let students practice in the class.
Through pop music, small games, internet videos or group conversation, etc.
For certain, students still need to review and study at home, but it’s just 2 or 3 hours per week.
It’s much more different from the angle of how students are evaluated in Finland.
The purpose and goal of language education is “Make you be able to communicate as much as possible”, “Make you speak as much as possible” and “Make you stay away from giving up as much as possible”.
Then what is the result?
“There are a bit more people who can speak the foreign language” and “There are a bit less people who quit learning or using the foreign language”.
The language evaluation in Finland was made as 6 grades: 0 to 5. 0 means “failed” and 1~5 means “passed”. 5 is the best. However, there is no ranking chart and students’ grades are not opened.
The contents of evaluation is not about “How much this student can use vocabulary and grammar correctly” but about “How much this student can communicate in this foreign language”.
“How much information you can deliver and you can catch” is the most important criteria in the evaluation.
However, this kind of evaluation must be established on the subjective perspective of each teacher.
In an education system that focuses on growing the students’ ability, the subjective perspective of each teacher is the key.
Nevertheless, in a society that considers competition as the most basic and important way for evaluation, the subjective perspective of each teacher will never be accepted, because it’s not objective to see who is better and who is worse and, of course, it is not possible to “precisely” evaluate students.
So our society and education system evaluate people’ ability “precisely”, “objectively” and “fairly” with exams, grades, rankings and other “Results from competitions”.
Then, what happens to the English capability of our students? Who can communicate in English better? Our students in Taiwan or Finnish students?
English or foreign language education is nothing but an example, but it also offers us a good angle to observe the whole education system in our society, in Taiwan.
What’s the problem in our (Taiwan) education?
What’s the expectation to our students from our nation, our society, our enterprises and our parents?
“Degrees, grades, rankings”
In our education, we let students take exams, we give grades to students, and we put a rank to each student. Those who have good ranks can get a good label of a “Good university”. To those who can’t, we just let them graduate and make them face more fierce competition in the society.
How about Finland?
In Finland’s education process, they let students practice, let students try new methods, try to make students not to give up soon in learning. As a result, the level of whole students is brought up, less students feel painful in studying and more students want to learn more.
Please let me ask a simple question:
Which student’s life is happier? Taiwanese students or Finnish students? (Here we ignore those factors such as climate, food, social security, etc.)
Usually, when we feel there are some problems in education, we check teachers first for potential reasons.
But it’s not that simple.
The responsibility is on the whole society.
Yes, including you…the reader of this article and me. (This means those Taiwanese people who are reading this article written in Chinese)
Aren’t those enterprises not responsible if they only take people by checking degrees?
Aren’t there any problems in giving certificate of teacher or choosing people to be teachers?
Is it really effective or beneficial to evaluate students by exams?
How about those parents who consider grades, ranks and degrees the most important for the future of their kids?
For efficiency, companies take people by looking at names of their universities.
Human resource workers may say, “There is no many other ways to do it. There are so many people applies every year after all. How could we have time to check their details one by one?”
They may also say, “There is another problem about risk. If we took a person who seems to have very good potential with a bad degree (from not famous universities), we’ll face the responsibility if he/she doesn’t perform well in the company. On the other hand, If we found a person who has a degree from a great university, then even if some problems happen, it’s much easier to avoid the responsibility.”
If you are a leader or CEO of a company, you have the chance to think over again, if there are some better ways to see and pick up people by their capability but not just a good degree.
What are the purposes of government and teachers in education?
Let students get high grades? Let students get great degrees? Or let students find their real happy lives?
Some people may say, “There are very little we can do. No good grades, no good universities!”
Some other people may say, “How could teenagers know what happy lives are? Why don’t we let them get better degrees now and they will have more options in their future lives.”
So….a teacher can’t do anything but says, “I can’t change anything” and gives up?
How about parents?
Do you think so as well?
“I want my kids go to the best schools.”, “I want my kids to be public servants or to work in big companies to have stable lives.” (To stay away from poor lives)
What exactly do you want to see on your kids?
Grades? Title? Salary?
Or the ability to search and find his/her own happy life?
The last word
Problems in education can’t be resolved in a single day.
But changes can start from today and from yourself and myself.
When we become parents or when we are parents, what do you expect on your kids? How do you want your kids to grow up? How will you educate your kids? We can start to think many things over again.
When a Father or a Mother becomes not just expecting their kids to get good grades, rankings, degrees, titles, salaries, maybe our education will become more like what the education originally should be.
I have a last question for you, my dear reader.
“Assume you are a Father or a Mother and someday your kid says to you with a pair of shining eyes that his/her dream is to be a truck driver. How would you respond to him/her?”