Thursday, June 19, 2008

Comp/Oral I debate contest

I just finished judging a debate contest in which students from the Composition and Oral Practice I classes at Tunghai (first-year English majors) debated the resolution, "Mainland Chinese students should be allowed to apply to universities in Taiwan." We listened to three debates on this topic today.

I have to say I value the opportunity to hear what first-year students have to say about this issue. They brought up some interesting points, illustrating, perhaps, some of their own anxieties about education in Taiwan. They evidently frequently hear about how hardworking students in China are--several groups mentioned stories about Chinese students studying under streetlights when the dorm lights go out, for instance, and compared these stories with examples of university students in Taiwan who play computer games and chat on MSN all night long. (Evidently Mr. Ma has mentioned this at some point in his argument in favor of allowing Chinese students here.) In the end, I found my own point of view about this issue complicated a bit by what they said.

I found, not surprisingly, things to criticize about the students' debates, but also things to praise, like the way many of them arranged their arguments, rebutted opponents' arguments, and cited sources. One thing I forgot to say, that I wish I had the opportunity to say to them, is that we teachers sometimes forget that what we ask students to do is something that has taken us years to be able to achieve. (This is true at least in my case. I'm still terrible at impromptu speaking!) So my hat's off to the students and teachers of Comp/Oral I this year!

Michael Turton asked about the arguments students were making in the debates, so I thought I'd mention some of them here. I'm just listing some out here without comment. Also, some arguments might overlap.

For allowing Chinese students to apply:
  1. Will stimulate/promote cultural exchange between Chinese and Taiwanese students
  2. Will promote cultural understanding between Chinese and Taiwanese society
  3. Can give students from the PRC a chance to live and learn in a more open society
  4. Will help promote colleges in Taiwan that have declining enrollments
  5. Will help internationalize education in Taiwan by encouraging foreign students to apply
  6. If we accept students from other countries, why not accept students from China?
  7. Will help motivate Taiwanese students to work harder (the Mr. Ma argument)
  8. Will bring more elite students here from China
Those were most of the more frequently cited "pro" arguments the students made. As Sam Spade says, "Maybe some of them are unimportant - I won't argue about that - but look at the number of them. And what have we got on the other side?" Well, let's take a look:

For not allowing Chinese students to apply:
  1. Will require Taiwan to provide Chinese students with scholarships, causing a further drain on the educational budget
  2. Schools with declining enrollments are not high quality, so should be allowed to close
  3. Students coming to Taiwan from China might not be all that elite (especially if they're sent to low-ranked schools)
  4. Will result in a lot of illegal labor from China (workers pretending to be students)
  5. Could result in legal problems concerning whether students from China are to be considered "international" or "domestic"
There was some interesting back-and-forth related to a lot of these assertions, including citations (on both sides) of examples from other countries like the U.S. and Belgium. A lot of discussion centered around who was going to have to pay for their attendance in Taiwan's universities and why we should or should not (or even can) prop up schools with declining enrollments by 'importing' students from China. There was some grudging acceptance of the idea that bringing students over could contribute to cultural exchange and understanding, but the "cons" rejected the idea that bringing in students from China would encourage more international students to come.

One thing I wanted to hear that I didn't hear until the very end was a number: how many Chinese students are we talking about? No one had a clear number for how many might be accepted to Taiwan, but one "pro" debater mentioned that in Hong Kong, only 205 of the 2000 Chinese students who applied in 2005 were accepted. This eased my mind a bit--some of the "con" debaters' arguments made me think that perhaps we were talking about allowing millions of students in. (One person on the "con" side expressed concern about traffic problems that might be caused by an influx of Chinese students!)

[Update, 23 June 2008]


runningburro said...

Blogger is unblocked at the moment, so I can comment on one of your posts! Whooo hooo!

Regarding mainland student productivity: Your students might be interested to know that at Beijing Normal University (which this year housed my college's students), the lights and internet in the dorms were shut off at midnight because -- university officials claimed -- if they weren't shut off, the students would stay up all night playing video games and chatting and then sleep through classes the next day.

Of course, we'll never know if this is true since the students weren't given any choice in the matter.

Jonathan Benda said...

Thanks for posting this! Breaks the stereotypes we always get here about students in the PRC memorizing English dictionaries by the light of the street lamps... ;)