Survey of Taiwanese Teens
Survey of Taiwanese Teens
CommonWealth Magazine's civic education survey found that Taiwan's Internet-savvy teens strongly support equal rights but have confused core values that could complicate a push toward "digital citizenship."
Survey of Taiwanese TeensBy Ting-feng Wu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 486 )
Taiwan's young people cannot be ignored. They are the hope of the future, but also a potentially disruptive force. To get a feel for what they're thinking, CommonWealth Magazine surveyed Taiwan's junior and senior high school students in October to judge the effectiveness of their civic education.
The survey, whose respondents ranged in age from 12 to 17, found that Taiwan's adolescent generation has an ambiguous relationship with adults, remaining tethered to the world of the older generation, but also existing in a different universe.
Young respondents demonstrated progressive values and an almost defiant bravery. But as the first generation reared on the Internet, they pose major challenges to those trying to figure out how to shape "digital citizens."
Phenomenon 1: Mixed Signals on Self and Country
Cultivating identification with the country and respect for its symbols (flag, national anthem, and leader) and a sense of obligation to perform military service and pay taxes have always been the core goals behind the promotion of civic education.
The survey found that traditional core civic education symbols all received the support of more than 60 percent of respondents. That is why prominent male entertainers who have found ways to dodge military service requirements have drawn the ire of students on campuses around the country.
But support for fulfilling one's military service did not translate into actually wanting to fight. When CommonWealth Magazine asked junior and senior high students, "Would you be willing to see yourself or family members head to battle if the country went to war with another country?" 39 percent answered they were "willing" or "very willing," but even more (44 percent) said they were unwilling. (See Table 1, 2, 3, 4)
This civic-education "stress test" offered an indication that local teenagers have not fully bought into their traditional civic duties. The civic sentiment of "sacrificing myself for the greater good" is no longer an unshakable value among Taiwan's young.
In the modern age, however, the gap in translating civic obligations into actual practice cannot be interpreted through such judgmental moralism. Taiwan has no intention of returning to the days of absolute obedience, when people were expected to die unquestioningly for their country. Today, to get young people to understand why there is a need to fight and for whom they are fighting, leaders need to rely on communication and reasoning to resonate with young citizens rather than relying on the top-down propaganda of the past.
Phenomenon 2: Ability over Gender
The younger generation has decided that income and the allocation of public resources should be based on ability rather than gender.
When the respondents were asked, for example, if they agreed that there should be equal pay for equal work without regard for gender in the workplace, 86 percent agreed. (Table 5)
In addition, nearly 90 percent said the suitability of class leader candidates should not be based on gender. (Table 6)
The younger generation also showed itself to be very tolerant on the subject of same-sex marriage, which has caused so many social ripples and disputes in the United States. Nearly 70 percent of those polled said same-sex marriage should be made legal in Taiwan. (Table 7)
These findings may reflect the progressive whims of youth, but values stressing ability over gender seem to go beyond that, representing a positive intergenerational movement.
The United Nations' recently released 2011 Gender Inequality Index (GII) did not include Taiwan because it is not a member of that world body. But calculations made by Taiwan's Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics using the index's methodology found that the country would have ranked first in Asia and fourth in the world (behind Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark) in gender equality had it been part of the survey.
Putting ability above gender not only reflects progress in Taiwan's collective mind-set, but also an enhancement of public well-being. As the World Bank's 2012 report on "Gender Equality and Development" suggests, "countries that create better opportunities and conditions for women and girls can raise productivity, improve outcomes for children, make institutions more representative, and advance development prospects for all."
Phenomenon 3: The Internet – a New School?
The biggest trend setting the younger generation apart from Taiwanese adults may be the growing prevalence of Internet addiction.
Twenty percent of the survey's adolescent respondents said they spend more than two hours a day online, compared with fewer than 10 percent who spend the same amount of time reading books unrelated to schoolwork. Even television is slowly falling from grace as "old media," with under 16 percent of respondents watching it more than two hours a day. (Table 8)
While conventional printed materials, especially novels, are still popular among Taiwanese teens, the Internet now reigns supreme as their preferred source of reading. (Table 9)
A closer look at the survey results found that the most frequently viewed online content was "social networking sites" and "online videos" (Table 10), raising an interesting question.
The classical ideal behind cultivating civic literacy has always been to stress critical thinking and logical debate. But with social networking sights full of fragmented, simplified information and short online video clips replacing more systematic contemplation of written materials, it is fair to question whether cyberspace can really shoulder the same burden as "salons" or schools in cultivating civic-minded citizens.
Phenomenon 4: In Search of Internet Justice
The concept of "digital citizenship" is relatively new, and there are questions over whether it actually exists in the real world.
Society can harbor expectations that the concept will come to life, but there must first be an understanding of the confused values that the process of cultivating "digital citizens" needs to overcome.
"If you see injustice, you can photograph it on your cell phone and post it online to launch a 'human-flesh search.' Do you agree or disagree?" was one of the questions asked about digital values, referring to a growing practice, especially in China, to hunt down online unidentified people who are considered to have done something wrong. Nearly 57 percent of respondents agreed with the practice and another 20 percent had no opinion, which can be interpreted as a sign of tacit support. (Table 11)
But there is often a fine line between safeguarding public morality and being self-righteous, and moral outrage can sometimes result in character assassination.
To be fair, such basic concepts as verifying facts, respecting individuals' privacy, and making sure the punishment is proportional to the crime have yet to gain a foothold in the Internet world.
Such concerns are not unfounded. A survey on how American teens navigate the new world of "Digital Citizenship" conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 69 percent of social media-using teens thought their peers were mostly kind to one another on social network sites, but rude and disrespectful behavior was nonetheless common.
Nearly nine out of every 10 respondents (88 percent) said they had witnessed people being mean or cruel to another person on the sites, and 15 percent reported that they had been the target of mean or cruel behavior on those same sites.
More importantly, the survey found that "90 percent of social media-using teens who have witnessed online cruelty say they have ignored mean behavior on social media," and 21 percent of respondents who have witnessed online cruelty said they even had joined in.
Phenomenon No. 5: The Net as Nanny
To help members of the younger generation become responsible netizens in the future, schools will be involved to some extent, but families will likely play an even more important role.
According to the CommonWealth Magazine survey, heavy Internet usage among students (defined as more than two hours a day) correlated to their fathers' educational background.
Dividing the educational background of respondents' fathers into four categories (junior high or below, high school, college, and graduate degree), it became clear that the better educated the father, the less likely the teenager was to be addicted to the Internet. Heavy use of the Internet among children of fathers with a "junior high school or lower" education was more than twice as high (29 percent) as among children of fathers with "graduate degrees" (13 percent). (Table 12)
What may account for the stark difference in the numbers? Fathers with poorer educational backgrounds usually also face relatively difficult social and economic conditions, often resulting in two-income households. It would seem reasonable to conclude that whether because of heavy pressure at work or a lack of spare time, parents in lower middle class households have less time to spend with their children, leaving the Internet to serve as the family's nanny.
Though the Internet can be used to kill time, it cannot educate or raise a child. Only people can do that. As schools and the government try to create a digital citizenship environment, they will have to account for social and economic class differences and the growing role of the Internet as a babysitter in lower income families.
Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier