Friday, October 02, 2009

School for the aristocracy?

I have a close friend, one of the most intelligent, tough-minded people I know, who contends that if the universities here were reformed so that there was no test system, and everyone got in American style on grades and extracurricular activities, the system would become totally corrupt as everyone bought grades or bought their way into better universities and departments. By taking the applications process out of the hands of universities, the college entrance exam system prevents the process from being sold to the highest bidder.

This week an opinion piece in the China Times pointed out how the nation is moving in that direction. One of the departments was taking part of the student inflow based on grades and extracurricular activities. The new system is called "甄試" which is like an audition, or the scouting combine in the NFL in which potential NFL players are evaluated before Draft Day. The students can apply to a school, and on a certain day they 甄試 at the school -- going there, dressed to the nines, and answer questions from the department teachers. Points are given for extracurricular activities such as foreign travel, and the ability to speak good English. Looks naturally count, in the usual hidden way. Because this is Taiwan, a network of cram schools has already sprung up to coach the kids how to 甄試.

The students can 甄試 at more than one school. If they fail that, the 甄試 students can also take the college entrance exam, essentially meaning that the rich have two cracks at getting into a good school. I blogged before on how a different but essentially similar system designed to help the underprivileged can be gamed by the rich, at a local "bilingual" school where wealthy and connected kids had their grades adjusted so that they could get into college (note that this system does work; I am merely demonstrating how such systems quickly become corrupted). Rumor has it that exactly the same thing is happening with the 甄試 system -- wealthy or attractive children are given better grades so they can get into better colleges, and give their high school face and attract more students to it. In a system where births are declining and there are fewer children each year, things are going to get cutthroat pretty fast.

The writer notes:

Of these more than 50 students who entered through 甄試, probably 70 percent are from Taipei City and County, generally from good school districts or elite private schools. Only 12 students in all came from central and southern Taiwan...of these, one of the parents is a university professor, another a doctor, others are businessmen or fund managers, and so forth. There are none whose parents are farmers...
"There are none whose parents are farmers..." the writer teaches in the Department of Agricultural Economics. The writer then notes in the next paragraph:

In general the English of students from the north is better than from the south. It is not surprising that many students (mostly from Taipei city and county) go abroad to travel, to study, or as exchange students. Some even spend every summer overseas. In addition, they participate in many "elite" activities, and learn "elite" musical instruments. When I see the 甄試 from central and southern Taiwan, whose interests are only playing basketball, playing guitar, and participating in activities that are free, I can't help but feel the gap is very great. Even though their grades are identical, students whose scorecards have "elite" activities naturally have priority over those with only free activities.
The testing system always favored the wealthy over the non-wealthy, nuclear families over extended families, people in Taipei over people elsewhere, cities over rural areas, etc: those who had access to good schools and had the money to educate their children intensively had a leg up. Perhaps there is no way to ensure that the children of non-elites have the same crack at the university system as the rich. But I think my friend's prediction is already coming true.
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another Jon said...

Why oh why can't people spell Jon Stewart's name properly???

Anonymous said...

Where can I read about Joe Hung? It seems there's a consensus that he's ideological and bad, but what are some sources? He's also an old dude, which I think on the face of it is a huge problem when media is moving fast towards the internet and away from print.

Richard said...

Seeing as I blogged on the Sinopac story last night as well... Since he has no apparent commenting system, just wanted to say that the 33% is not a magical number, from a technical standpoint it makes sense. A 33% rise in the TAIEX would put it at its previous highs in 2007, putting in a double top. Do we get there though? Well, that's a different story.

Thomas said...

This is one reason why I object to the idea of "university interviews". Many business schools have them or require them. In fact, I was told by the dean of one school that I was considering in Hong Kong that the application process itself is only a formality. They meet you a few times before you start applying, ask their questions, and then decide whether or not they want you at their school.

This does indeed help them get a certain type of high-caliber student in their program. But it also means that your admission depends largely on whether or not the admissions staff "likes" you.

I am not sure of what the system is that you are describing for Taiwanese HS students, but it sounds nefarious in the same way.

Michael Turton said...

Why oh why can't people spell Jon Stewart's name properly???

Ha! I will leave it there, just to torment you.

Michael Turton said...

Where can I read about Joe Hung? It seems there's a consensus that he's ideological and bad, but what are some sources?

just read his old posts at the China Pest. Easy to find on google.

Michael Turton said...

I am not sure of what the system is that you are describing for Taiwanese HS students, but it sounds nefarious in the same way.

Someday I shall tell all in a book.

vin said...

Corruption of any non-objective admissions system is a given; the question is what degree of corruption is acceptable. Partial remedies and controls -- aptitude tests as qualifiers, for example, perhaps coupled with universal national-university admission above a certain minimum, with strict grading policies (monitored by oversight committees) to weed out the lazy or incapable -- are always available if the political will to preserve and enforce a high degree of fairness is present. It’s rare when a suitable “balances” part of a “checks and balances” approach cannot be devised; thus, a system open for long to being gamed in a particular way often reflects a values problem, not a fundamental problem with a system's overall orientation.

The test system is in large part responsible for the values problem, so it would hardly make sense to preserve or revert to the old-style test system simply because a new system manifests more clearly in some ways the evils that this old system creates. You expect problems to manifest themselves in a new system and you go to work fixing the problems, no?

But even if this fairness problem goes unfixed for an intervening period of time, the overall results may still be beneficial; whatever helps get Taiwanese to see more clearly that there are multiple routes to success in today's world -- indeed, that pouring excessive familial resources into getting a child into a national university may not be the best choice -- is a plus. The growing pains engendered by the new system seem to be generally raising awareness, and it is only through more awareness that better approaches and solutions can be found.

All of which leads to my wondering what the point is of reducing the discussion to a choice of the old-style test system or else the American university admissions system. It strikes me as a false dilemma (the either/or fallacy).

Mu said...

"just wanted to say that the 33% is not a magical number, from a technical standpoint it makes sense. A 33% rise in the TAIEX would put it at its previous highs in 2007, putting in a double top."

Thank you for demonstrating ably why I don't have a commenting system on my blog. TA is the biggest pile of hokum pokum nonsense since snake oil was invented. FWIW I don't follow the comments on this blog usually so please don't try to contact me via here. My email is on my blog if anyone wants to discuss stuff with me. Cheers.


Anonymous said...

I recall reading some history on famous Confucian thinkers, and one of them mentioned that so-and-so scholar was very poor and had a hard time, but then he got a position grading the exams for the Chinese imperial meritocracy, which suddenly made him a rich man. (Yeah, sorry for no specifics here.)

That made me wonder how damn meritocratic those tests could have been if bribes were accepted.

Anonymous said...

There is also a case, that such corruption will eventually become well known, and thus employers would downgrade schools that allowed such entrants.

In a similar vein, I have met Stanford students who told me that if they failed a course, it would be erased from the record, and they could take it again. "nobody fails out of Stanford."

Anonymous said...

Mu, no one wants to discuss over email if they are posting a comment publicly here. If you find that inconvenient then enable comments. If you don't like all those comments, then enable moderation.

FWIW, I agree with your position on the market predictions (and also strongly disagree with Richard's position) but your analogy is very strained. If it works, you're not doing a good job of showing why Sinopac's irresponsible prediction is a case of anchoring.