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Ko proposes bilingual classes, better higher education to address low wages

11/15/2023 10:35 PM
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Taiwan People's Party Chairman Ko Wen-je speaks at a youth forum held ahead of the Jan. 13 elections in Taipei on Wednesday. CNA photo Nov. 15, 2023
Taiwan People's Party Chairman Ko Wen-je speaks at a youth forum held ahead of the Jan. 13 elections in Taipei on Wednesday. CNA photo Nov. 15, 2023

Taipei, Nov. 15 (CNA) Presidential aspirant Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) on Wednesday proposed expanding investment in English and tertiary education to bolster young people's competitiveness and promote industrial upgrading, two issues he said were associated with low wages for young people.

"It is a painful truth, but the reality is that not one university in Taiwan is ranked in the top 100 globally," compared to four in Hong Kong and two in Singapore, Ko, chairman and presidential nominee of the opposition Taiwan People's Party (TPP), told a youth forum in Taipei.

"Given that, how do you think we can facilitate industrial upgrading?" said Ko, attributing the cause of low wages to the majority of Taiwan's industries exhibiting low-added-value.

Only when Taiwan's industries transform into high-value-added, technology-driven sectors can they avoid the phenomenon of industries relocating overseas whenever local wages rise, he added.

Ko made the remarks when fielding questions from the audience about his election platform to address the challenge of low wages facing Taiwan's young adults.

According to Taiwan's Ministry of Labor data earlier this year, about 70 percent of Taiwanese youth earn between NT$27,000 (US$844) and NT$29,000 monthly.

Taiwan's minimum monthly wage is slated to increase to NT$27,470 starting next year, up from the current level of NT$26,400. This decision has been officially made by the Cabinet.

Ko said efforts by previous governments to promote industrial upgrading have proved a failure, adding that Taiwan must improve higher education to fulfill the demand for talent needed to continue developing ICT industries, advance digital transformation for traditional industries and innovation.

With only about 0.39 percent of GDP spent on higher education in Taiwan and a large number of institutions, each school receives a relatively small budget, resulting in a lack of competitiveness for individual institutions, Ko said.

Ko proposed continuous increases in educational spending, accompanied by closure of universities or colleges facing under-enrollment in the context of a declining birthrate, to ensure schools have sufficient resources to improve quality.

"My goal is to have at least two or three of Taiwan's universities in the top 100 of the world rankings in ten years," Ko said.

However, Ko misspoke as in June National Taiwan University was ranked in 69th place in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings.

Meanwhile, Ko, who previously expressed skepticism about the "Bilingual 2030 Plan" adopted by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2017 to enhance English proficiency in students, said he would continue to advocate for the goal of developing Taiwan into a bilingual nation.

The former Taipei mayor said he rolled out a pilot project on bilingual education in elementary schools in 2017, starting with two schools.

The number of bilingual elementary schools -- defined as one-third of courses being taught in English -- grew to 78, or 33 percent of 236 schools, before he concluded his eight year tenure in 2022, he added.

The initial goal of having at least 40 percent of elementary schools offering bilingual education was undermined by the lack of qualified English teachers, Ko said.

Ko said he likes studying classical Chinese poetry, such as Tang and Song dynasty poetry, but "we have to promote bilingual education for the competitiveness of the nation."

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)



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