Seizing the opportunity to become global citizens—The Program on Bilingual Education for Students in College (BEST)
It is now easily possible for local Taiwanese people to meaningfully connect with the outside world. Many colleges and universities in the Republic of China (R.O.C. Taiwan) are currently constructing bilingual-teaching environments for students throughout their schooling to build their future global mobility. These institutions are striving to develop students’ English-speaking abilities as well as pushing students in using English in professional areas for international workplaces.
In recent years, one example is National Taiwan University (NTU). It has established 600 English-taught courses per semester, which account for around 9 percent of the total number of courses. The Executive Vice President of NTU, Dr. Chai-Pei Chou, pointed out that NTU will increase the engagement rate for English in future teaching, as well as implement bilingual measures in all sections of the school, like regulations and announcement sheets. In that case, NTU plans to become a bilingual campus in which students and faculty are able to immerse themselves naturally.
In early 2002, Yuan Ze University (YZU) began to promote English-taught courses in terms of its bilingual measures. Additionally, in 2007, YZU established an English Bachelor of Business Administration degree; then in 2012, the Colleges of Engineering, Informatics, Humanities and Social Science, and Electrical and Communication Engineering followed by creating English programs for bachelor study. In the future, YZU will operate courses for “Global English” and “English Presentation Skills”, especially for freshmen, to try to improve the ability of English public speaking.
National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) has also managed to expand the percentage of English courses in its school. At the same time, in order to support students’ English learning abilities, NTNU has established the Center of Academic Literacy, organized by the chair of the Graduate Institute of Translation and Interpretation. The center cultivates academic writing and speaking abilities for students with occasional workshops and online tutoring.
In response to the “Blueprint for Developing Taiwan into a Bilingual Nation by 2030” published by the Executive Yuan, most colleges and universities in the R.O.C. (Taiwan) are all promoting bilingual teaching. In the past two years, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has proactively pressed ahead with multiple bilingual education policies. In September 2021, the MOE even developed the Program on Bilingual Education for Students in College (BEST), and expects students to use English as a stepping stone, and not as an obstacle, to connect with the world.
Facing globalization and the rapid development of digital technology, the Minister of Education, Minister Wen-Chung Pan, claimed that both specialized subjects and international communication should be emphasized in talent cultivation for the next generation. Minister Pan especially considers international communication skills to be a vital capability, and, therefore, it is extremely important to promote bilingual education.
Moving on to another teaching institution, National Sun Yat-sen University’s (NSYSU) Vice President for academic affairs Dr. Po-Chiao Lin said that “Bilingual teaching is a crucial strategy for talents in the R.O.C. (Taiwan) in order to raise global mobility.” NSYSU provides opportunities for students to immerse themselves in bilingual interactive environments and then trains students to use professional English properly in specific areas before entering workplaces. NSYSU expects to upgrade English both as a communication tool and an essential work skill for students to build their careers.
The Executive Vice President of National Taiwan University (NTU), which is recognized as a top research university in the R.O.C. (Taiwan), Dr. Chia-Pei Chou pointed out that strengthening students’ English skills benefits both the quality and quantity of research. When students have high enough English proficiency to read international journals and academic theses, students can absorb and expand their knowledge through these English articles. Moreover, they can participate in many more international forums and academic exchanges.
Is current English teaching floundering?
Although the government has set these challenging goals for bilingual education, and universities are promoting English-taught courses, there are many voices casting doubts on this program. People are wondering whether the goals of BEST can be achieved, or whether educational resources are being wasted on a poorly organized program which will achieve very little in the end.
In fact, with the growth of society, most of the instructors in universities agree that half of the new generation already possess a certain degree of English proficiency because these youngsters have been learning English since primary school.
From 2020 to 2021, according to the investigation conducted by the MOE and the British Council, there were around 21 percent of third-grade senior high school students in the R.O.C. (Taiwan)who possessed B2 level and above English language proficiency within the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) criteria. In effect, these students can interact fluency, or with a degree of fluency, in English. In addition to this, one fifth of third-grade senior high school students have basic abilities to take English-taught courses. Last but not least, 7,000 instructors are fully capable of teaching academic courses in English.
However, there are people who do have some doubts about whether teaching efficiency and content might be affected due to teachers’ limited English proficiency. This concern needs to be resolved through bilingual learning program which is operated by the MOE, and English-Medium-Instruction Courses (EMI) which are encouraged by colleges and universities, and refer to the courses which instructors use when teaching professional subjects in English.
With appropriate policies and funds, the MOE expects to raise the awareness of the importance of English teaching in colleges and universities. The MOE also plans to attract international teaching talents: as mentors, to offer relevant consultation, engage in collaborative teaching with teachers in the R.O.C. (Taiwan), or assist colleges and universities with organizing the curriculum of EMI courses, hardware, and software devices. The MOE will take action to ensure that even if these courses are taught in English, students will both develop better English proficiency, and still gain enough professional knowledge in the class.
Altogether, from 2021 to 2024, the MOE has initiated the BEST program with 2.5 billion funds, and with the above premises. At the same time, in 2021, in order to accelerate the growth of English teaching in colleges and universities, the MOE firstly reviewed 4 main cultivation schools, namely National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU), National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), National Taiwan University (NTU) and National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU). Moreover, 41 main cultivation departments have been reviewed, including the Department of Engineering and Applied Science, the Department of Social Science, and lastly the Department of Biological and Medical and Agricultural Sciences. The MOE expects to cultivate the capability of global mobility for those talents from these different specific areas.
Building clear goals to meet the demand
Based on prior experience of promoting bilingual teaching on campuses, the Vice President for academic affairs of NSYSU, Dr. Po-Chiao Lin, considered that the performance goals of this program, as promoted and created by the MOE, are very clear, crucial, achievable and can meet demand. The MOE expects the first batch of schools which have received financial support from the government should reach two performance goals which are as follow:
First, in 2024, to reach the goal of “25-20-20”. In 2024, the beacon bilingual schools will be expected to have: at least 25% sophomores who possess an English proficiency at the level of B2 within CEFR, 20% of sophomores and also 20% of first-grade graduated students having 20% of English-taught classes counted among their current credits during a year.
Second, in 2030, to achieve the goal of “50-50-50”. In 2030, beacon bilingual schools will be expected to have: at least 50% of sophomores who possess B2 English language proficiency within CEFR, above 50% of sophomores and also 50% of first-grade graduated students who have taken 50% of English-taught classes during a whole year, and being certified for taking EMI courses in their diploma.
From 2021 to 2024, furthermore, with the program of Developing Taiwan into a Bilingual Nation by 2030, the MOE will continue to develop policies to gradually build medium-long-term goals and provide financial support to different colleges and universities.
In order to achieve the policies, the following actions are all essential: raising the awareness of teachers and students, considering the actual needs and feedback from teachers and students, and establishing proper plans. The purpose of doing so is to mentally and physically support those who participate in bilingual teaching and learning. For instance, NSYSU revised their policy of teacher evaluation and provided 1.5 times of per hour salary for instructors who are in charge of new English-taught classes. In terms of NTU, they offer educational training within their departments for a team of tutors and provide office hours to assist students’ study, thereby producing more interaction.
The program of BEST is now developing among colleges and universities, and R.O.C. (Taiwan) is expected to transfer into a bilingual nation by the year of 2030. In the future, talents in the R.O.C. (Taiwan) should have no border obstacles and will be able to become global citizens.