Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog

Alternative Models of Higher Education

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on April 11, 2009

A recent post from Global Higher Education addresses an issue that I’ve found troubling for a long time. The post, entitled Global higher education: what alternative models for emerging higher education systems?, was written by guest writers Moshidi Sirat and Ooi Poh Ling. It’s main point is the way in which post-colonial states have,

…adopted the [higher education] systems of their respective colonizers who also provided the major part of the funding mechanism, teaching staff, and ideologies on higher education at one time in history.

Despite independence and in some cases huge economic development,

…fundamental models practiced in Asian countries remain biased towards European/American model. This factor has contributed to the peripheral status of Asian higher education institutions and with the rapid globalisation, the so-called central higher education institutions in Europe/America would remain dominant, more striking in the context of higher education internationalization.

I recommend reading the entire post, which closes by bringing attention to the forthcoming conference Second Global Higher Education Forum.

As much as I agree with the authours’ points, I am also troubled by the idea of localized education. In Taiwan, it’s true that higher education is modeled after the USA. A more salient aspect of education has been the institutional forms imposed during the 40 years of military government under the KMT. Many members of the former military government remain in government following their democratic election. As a result, the institutional forms they established during their totalitarian rule are still very much a part of education.

For example, much of professional and technical life in Taiwan is regulated through government examinations supervised by massive bureaucratic bodies. Educational decisions remain tied to centralized examination results. While government rhetoric links these to the imperial examinations of China’s past, their use has been primarily to enforce Mandarin language usage and the political indoctrination of ethnic Taiwanese following the retrocession of Taiwan to the Republic of China in 1945. Under democratic governance, these exams have become extremely unpopular, but remain a key part of education and professional life because no workable alternative can be envisioned.

Attempts to shed Taiwan universities of some of the problems inherent in this system have taken the form of adopting Western educational practices (also here).This is not because there are no local models available, but because these methods fail to meet the needs of Taiwan as its industries are increasingly globalized. Another important example is language education. Localized language teaching systems are increasingly being replaced by methods developed by Western social scientists to teach primarily European languages. This is not necessarily because Western methods are seen as ‘better’ but because locally-derived methods are unpopular and ineffective.

Taiwan is a special case in Asia, but this does point to some of the problems in identifying workable educational systems. I look forward to hearing more about work on alternative models.

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4 Responses

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  1. kerim said, on April 12, 2009 at 3:01 am

    “This is not necessarily because Western methods are seen as ‘better’ but because locally-derived methods are unpopular and ineffective.” ???

  2. […] Scott Sommers on alternative models of education. […]

  3. scottsommers said, on April 13, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Kerim, I’m not sure what you mean by ?? Perhaps I work too closely with language teachers and this is written in our secret vocabulary.

    There is a locally-derived method of teaching. It involves the memorization of vocabulary lists, grammar drills, and motivation through testing. It resembles a method of teaching called audio-lingual, once widely used in the West. It is more accurately described by the Japanese term yakudoku.

    Some researchers believe the growing use of Western communicative teaching methods is based in their association with ‘advanced’ Western culture. This is the origin of the debates we’ve had here about English teaching and imperialism. I believe this is not true. Communicative methods are adopted because they are more interesting and more effective at producing language proficiency.

    Yakudoku is not popular among students. It is boring, and most of all does not work very well. We are all familiar with the concept of local English teachers who can not communicate in English. From a policy point of view this is important because it gets around the problem of a shortage of sufficiently proficient teachers. The demand for foreign teachers and overseas study to deal with this is so strong that it has serious economic effects.

    Does this answer your question?

  4. […] Summers, Alternative Models of Higher Education? Emerging countries, emerging models for […]


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