Pulling Up Or Dragging Down?

Recent news about English education caught my eyes. It was an announcement made by the government that it won’t implement the policy which would require students take an
English listening comprehension test before they enter college. After heatedly debating on this issue for months, the government gave in to people who strongly opposed the new policy. They argued that the new policy will widen the gap between the advanced English learners and the slowest learners. The government didn’t want to be blamed for making this problem more serious, so they decided to stay in the same old evaluation method for another few years.

I was not surprised to see this news, but I was quite worried that it was another setback in English education in Taiwan. Statistics have revealed that last year Taiwanese students’ average TOFEL test score dropped to the last fourth place from the last sixth place in Asian countries. Since the world has become a village, English is the most widely used language. While other countries are improving their youngsters’ English ability, our government’s conservative attitude is negatively affecting our youngsters’ ability to learn English. Generally speaking, our students are test-oriented. They only study for testing.

Since the average English level in Taiwan is lower than most countries in Asia, and there is a huge gap between the students with an advanced English level and those at the lowest level, the authorities in English education were pressured to solve this problem. They suggested testing the listening comprehension in the hope that the students’ communication skills can be improved.

However, the opponents strongly voiced that the new policy shouldn’t take effect. They argued that the test would be too challenging for the students whose family cannot support their studies. Instead, those opponents suggested that the students should learn how to read English textbooks but not to enhance listening comprehension skills. Their point is arguable because many professors in Taiwan have difficulty speaking English well but they have no difficulty reading English textbooks. The insufficient English oral ability hinders many of them from giving presentations in English at international conferences. It is a pity that they can hardly share their knowledge or research findings with the world.

It is true that it is not fair for financially deprived students to take listening comprehension tests if they have no access to the resources. However, this problem can be easily solved if those students can get free resources from the government or charity organization.

The government should not give up a good policy without even giving it a try. I am afraid that our young generation might lose the global competition to their counterparts in other countries if they cannot confidently use English. It is the government’s responsibility to bring up all students’ English level, but not to allow the slow learners to drag the average level down.

Bih-Hua Chen
July 16, 2010