Being “internationalized” or having “world vision” is a canned phrase used to describe the goal for schools and businesses alike. In my opinion, it’s just window dressing most of the time. For example, universities might brag about having an increasing number of international students, but in fact they put them in separate dorms so Taiwanese students/school officials don’t have to deal with the cultural clashes.
I’ve always been looking for chances to see how much Taiwanese students know about the world. This summer, I had the opportunity to teach English to two classes of students freshly enrolled in junior high school. I took the chance to do a little survey during the class about place and country names in English. I thought they would be good subjects because I would be able to get a glimpse of the fruit of Taiwanese elementary school education regarding “world vision”, and they weren’t so jaded by Taiwanese high school education that they would be unmotivated to even fill out the blanks.
So this is how I did it. I chose 27 countries in total, as shown on the map below:
I chose these countries because I thought these would be easier for the students, since they are on the news more and people talk about them more in Taiwan.
I distributed 60 handouts including the map shown above and 27 blanks for their answers. I gave them 10-15 minutes to fill in the countries they knew or thought that they knew. Then, I gave them the correct answers and told them to use a different color of pen to correct their answers. Among the handouts returned to me, 45 were countable and valid data.
I thought it was interesting that the first reaction a lot of students had was shouting, “Teacher, why isn’t Taiwan numbered?” So that’s comforting. A lot of them know where Taiwan is, and no one asked me “Teacher, why isn’t Republic of China numbered?”
So how much do these 12-year-olds know?
Most of them know where China and Japan are (93% for both). Many of them know where the Philippines are (71%). I started out this project expecting the worst, because I’m generally pessimistic about the Taiwanese cramming style of teaching. So I already consider it comforting that most of these kids were able to name the countries closest to us.
Following China, Japan, the Philippines were Australia (56%), U.S.A (47%), Russia (36%), Canada (29%), New Zealand (18%), India (16%), and Egypt (11%). The percentages were relatively low for all of these countries, especially for Australia, the U.S.A. and Canada when considering that they had come up often in conversation, and a lot of native English-speaking teachers are from these countries.
All the other countries not mentioned had percentages under 10%: Spain (9%), France (9%), Indonesia (7%), Mexico (4%) and Germany (4%). Only one student knew where Norway is. Same for Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
What was also interesting was their mistakes. I really appreciate these mistakes because they tell us something more interesting than correct answers. Most of the students just left the places they didn’t know blank.
The number in the parentheses is the number of students who gave that answer. So yeah, three people named Canada “U.S.A.” Surprising? What’s probably more funny is that one student named the U.S.A. “Russia”.
Another thing I would like to mention is that all the students seemed to enjoy this activity a lot. I could see that they were actively thinking when they were filling out their answers. When I announced the correct answers, they would raise their hands (usually you have to push ten times for that in Taiwan) and share what they knew about the countries with me. A lot of them were stereotypes, true, but those at least gave me chances to correct them. I don’t know if they’ll stay like this until the end of senior high school or if they’ll become super jaded, teacher-hating students. I certainly hope they can keep up their interest in the world.