What is Experimental about Experimental Education?
Taiwan’s legislature is currently reviewing three laws pertaining to experimental education. Tim Chen, father of three home-schooled children and a longtime activist for non-traditional avenues to education, cautions that the label “experimental” alone does not make schooling different.
What is Experimental about Experimental Education?By Tim Chen
Last Thursday, the Legislative Yuan began to review amendments to the Three Acts Governing Experimental Education (實驗教育三法) (link in Chinese), triggering widespread attention and debate. An education union argued that allowing one third of schools to become experimental schools would lead to a collapse of education. Others suggested the government should subsidize experimental education and that such education should be extended to universities.
Before we delve into such discussions, we should first ask: What is actually experimental about experimental education?
Simply adding the term “experimental” to education will not do the trick.
Let us first clarify the difference between “experimental education” and “education experiments”. “Experimental education” is a wide-ranging comprehensive overhaul of schooling, whereas an “education experiment” is only a minor change within an existing framework.
To cite some examples, Wanfang Senior High School, Chengyuan High School, Tatung High School, Huajiang High School and Yongchun Senior High School in Taipei City set up experimental classes in the subjects of Chinese, English and math earlier this year. The students forming these experimental classes must still first gain admission to said schools via the current program of ‘Multi-Opportunities for School Entrance.’ Moreover, the curriculum and content of these experimental classes is only slightly different from what the other high school students in the same school learn.
So, then, what is “experimental education”? Experimental education can be divided into two types: “school-based” and “non-school-based.” School-based experimental education means carrying out an integrated experiment based on specific educational concepts on a school-wide scope. In other words, the school’s experimental education must not only have educational propositions that differ from ordinary schools, it must also involve the entire school.
So what is a specific educational concept? Would that include education with American English as the language of instruction, or an education that focuses on advancement into more prestigious schools? Of course, these don’t count. If you took an ordinary American high school curriculum and taught it entirely in American English, the Experimental Education Review Committee would most likely not consider this a specific educational concept. However, if it were an all-American Montessori school, the application would probably pass.
A school with “experimental” in its name does not necessarily provide “experimental education.” It’s the same with pearl milk tea, which does not contain the kind of pearls that you can string into a necklace, or sun cakes, which aren’t filled with sun.
For example, there is a school that neither has a specific educational concept, nor is it conducting an integrated education experiment on a school-wide scope, yet its name is nonetheless Taipei Municipal XX Experimental Senior High School. This is the legacy of the [since abolished] Regulations Governing the Establishment of Experimental Senior High Schools that was announced in 2000. Therefore, so-called experimental high schools should by no means be equated with experimental education.
Self Study, Joint Study and Experimental Institutions
Now we need to discuss the three types of non-school-based experimental education: “individual”, “group”, and “institution”.
“Individual”, as the term suggests, means individual students practicing experimental schooling at home or at another place besides the school. This is also known as home schooling or self-study at home. Individual experimental education is likely the freest, least controlled type of experimental education. As long as the review committee passes the plan, the parents can freely decide what is taught, who teaches it and where the schooling takes place.
If you have your own strong ideas about your children’s education and are a parent with strong convictions, then this type of experimental schooling will give you an enormous sense of achievement (and leave you quite tired). Just like what my wife and I have experienced for the past 15 years and will go through in the next 10 years.
The second type is where three or more students gather at the same time and place to practice experimental education. Simply put, this would be the concept of teaming up.
Experimental group schooling is suitable for parents who have ideas about their children’s education but worry they might not be able to do the job all by themselves. However, since all parents jointly apply (and jointly sign), you should not rashly try this approach unless you and the other parents have a very strong shared belief, or everyone is willing to hold frequent meetings to forge consensus.
The last type is institutional experimental schooling managed by a non-profit organization such as the Taipei Media School (TMS), which is run by the Taipei Culture Foundation. The major goal of the student-centered practical curriculum of this technical high school is to cultivate basic technical talent for the audiovisual industry. Schooling takes place at a fixed venue (the Treasure Hill Artist Village near Gongguan MRT station).
The biggest difference between institutional experimental schooling and the two former types is that the applicant is the school-running corporation, not the parents. Therefore, the parents must make sure that they strongly identify with the corporation’s experimental education ideals before they apply for admission.
If, by any chance, a student cannot adjust to the institution’s experimental schooling, the institution has the responsibility to counsel the student’s transfer to another school. The student and his or her parents may also take the initiative in applying for withdrawal, which, according to the law, the institution cannot reject.
Give Children Room to Explore
There is no perfect educational approach; there is only an educational approach that suits you.
Experimental education is education by choice. Parents and students can freely choose a suitable school, group or institution for enrollment and learn how to learn.
But in the end, they must still choose what they love and love what they choose. By all means, don’t put too much emphasis on your child’s future success, thus losing out on self-exploration in the present.
Regardless of which kind of experimental education they receive, these students will eventually return to society and face life relying on their own abilities. It’s like Billy Joel sang in his classic “Just the Way You Are" 40 years ago: “Don't go changing, to try and please me…I love you just the way you are!"
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz
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