Departmental Bulletin Paper The academic competition “winner's”blindness to resource inequity in Taiwan English education

Brown, Charles

69pp.1 - 31 , 2016-03-25 , 北海道大学大学院メディア・コミュニケーション研究院 = Research Faculty of Media and Communication, Hokkaido University
Inequity in educational resources has been a subject of concern in Taiwan with equal access to English learning representing one aspect of this challenge. Despite scholarly attention to the issue of educational inequity, little research along these lines has been robustly rooted in experiences and perspectives of English students themselves. In light of this,in the qualitative study detailed here I drew upon accounts of English learning collected from 55 university English majors in Taiwan in order to understand students’lived experience with and perceptions of inequity in English educational resources. The results include several important findings linking inequitable learning resources and perceptions of competition in English education in Taiwan society. First,study participants understood English education in Taiwan as entailing aspects of a zero-sum competition. High-stakes high school and college entrance assessments were pivotal in this perception since these assessments feature English as one of the tested subjects, since they were perceived as competitive, and since the rewards ― in the form of entry to prestigious institutions ― were limited. This study suggests that the competitive aspects of English learning in Taiwan extend beyond academic settings to employment opportunities accessed via high-stakes English tests and English-language job interviews, as well as by the enhanced personal marketability associated with the prestige of attending more selective universities. Second, participants and their families acted accordingly, using a variety of personal resources to support English learning. Individuals transformed these inequitable resources into access to educational and employment opportunities by using them to foster enhanced English performance. In this way, formal English education represents a mechanism whereby access to personal learning resources ultimately translates into increased life chances in Taiwan. In terms of feelings about the situation, while participants strongly decried the competition surrounding English education in Taiwan, concern with inequity in access to English learning resources represented a much less salient issue in their accounts of English learning. While a few participants did perceive inequity in English learning resources to be a problematic issue, most did not and even felt that the victims of this inequity were themselves to blame. This latter attitude would tend to bolster a meritocratic ideology of English education and to arguably deflect criticism levied against it on the basis of inequity. Given this situation of inequity and competition in Taiwan formal English education, this research provides evidence for the role of formal English education in Taiwan in the reproduction of inequality in that society.

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