TAIWAN: Towards a Higher Education Inclusive of Indigenous Cultural Principles

TAIWAN: Towards a Higher Education Inclusive of Indigenous Cultural Principles
Credit: Reuters / Nicky Loh
Why you need to know

A professor says Taiwan's universities must switch from a 'with-them' to a 'for-us' educational model.

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By Prof. Wu Tien-tai

In order to have a complete indigenous education, we need input from both tribes and schools. Although we have practices and discourse within multicultural education to honor the wisdom of indigenous cultures, the majority of textbooks and teaching material still contain the dominant cultures’ points of view in higher education.

Thus, in order to develop indigenous cultural education and to explore this line of thinking further, we interviewed 6 professors and 5 indigenous students who were engaged in indigenous education between 2017 and 2018. Through this research project, we assessed both the professors and students’ opinion toward adding more content concerning indigenous cultures to courses, and to creating methods based on indigenous practice, such as shared learning and collective knowledge on campus.

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Credit: Tien-Tai Wu

We learnt that these professors shared a belief that students need to learn from the tribes and to further understand the needs of tribal development. Teaching indigenous cultures in higher education is beneficial for all students. These students further believed that they could learn about themselves and about ways to understand others. They desired more opportunities to participate in course activities such as dramatic performances, group discussions and filled-trips. Such ideas were fully supported by all the individuals engaged with, as they were aware of the importance of transmitting indigenous knowledge in formal education.

It is clear that we all need to broaden our cultural visions.

Another element to this ‘dynamic-model’ in higher education were the teaching materials developed in order to evaluate the results from students’ feedback in my classes: indigenous education, anthropology of education and multicultural communication.

For those classes, some of lectures and teaching materials were prepared from the perspectives of Han and Indigenous cultures. Feedback was collected from the questionnaire survey after the teaching activities and students agreed that these classes inspired their interest toward culture, helped them appreciate various teaching methods and evaluation, and aided in the development of diverse perspectives about the world.

The whole project was headed by four researchers from various disciplines including language, culture, art, education and communication. We integrated our disciplines by combining courses and forming related teaching issues to discover an indigenous cultural knowledge system which was not limited to current disciplinary classifications.  Following this integrated teaching and learning process, we each engaged in a process of self-reflection and critical analysis of our efforts and discussions.

At the same time, we found that indigenous cultural identities and practices enriched the current curriculum and empowered indigenous students at university. By combining both tribal and university resources, as well as the holistic teaching and learning of indigenous cultures, we can ultimately fulfill the ideals of life-long education. It is important to emphasize that learning from tribes, and forming a support system which can transmit indigenous cultures through both formal education and traditional learning systems is an imperative for higher education in Taiwan.

We can learn from each other among indigenous peoples, faculty members and students. We should further create more dialogue as well as design appropriate curriculum for proper indigenous education. Indeed, through interdisciplinary co-operation we may create opportunities that benefit one another. The tribes and universities can also build up long-term relationships which can provide certain nutrition for one another’s growth. From “With-Them” to “For-Us”, a dynamic step-by-step teaching and learning process is generated.

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Credit: Reuters / Nicky Loh
People dance around elders from the Tsou aboriginal tribe after the 'Mayasvi' war ceremony in the village of Tefuye in Alishan, March 1, 2008.

This whole process involves considerable interaction between professors from various departments. For example, for my cultural anthropology class, I invited Dr. Tang from the Department of Ethnic Languages and Communication to join our teaching activities. Her students got the chance to teach my students about indigenous language. It was amazing to witness students coming from various backgrounds, sitting around each table learning different indigenous languages. The linguistic students tried their utmost to teach my students efficiently, and their passion was contagious. In the process, we knew we were creating new and student-friendly environments for learning about indigenous cultures together.

Another example is my multicultural communication class, where I invited Dr. Chen from the Art Department to visit a junior high school attended by members of the Truku tribe, and join our activities. We engaged in participant observation in their cultural education classrooms, taking part in lesson activities which centered on singing, weaving, and archery. The students performed well and we were impressed by the efforts of both teachers and students. One teacher expressed to us that our visit encouraged the students and that, on the day, they performed very well. My students evaluated this visit as a positive experience, because it gave them opportunities to ask questions and inspire each other.

To sum up, it is possible to find a mode of integration which is not limited by current course classifications. We need to emphasize and be aware of the subjectivity of indigenous peoples and the power of culture. In sum, the principles of indigenous cultures can enrich the current teaching methods and empower indigenous students in higher education settings.

Dr. Wu Tien-tai’s area of expertise lies in cultural anthropology, indigenous education, and intercultural communication. She is a full professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at National Dong Hwa University and is serving as a member of the Indigenous Education Policy Committee for the Ministry of Education in Taiwan.

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Credit: Reuters / TPG

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The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article. The piece was first published here by Asia Dialogue, a website published by the University of Nottingham's Asia Research Institute.

TNL Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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