It was my first time speaking in front of high school students.

I have always enjoyed the Q&A sessions that come after panels, perhaps because they are the most genuine type of interaction and not a one-way handout. But this time I was stumped.

A student asked, “I’m a sophomore at the moment, and all I can think of is excelling the college entrance exam. Is this wrong?”

To be honest, my immediate reaction was, “Of course it’s wrong. Exams aren’t that important at all.”

But thinking more closely, wasn’t I this way in high school? How is it my place to tell him what is right and wrong?

Something else also came to my mind. Around this time last year, which happened to be graduation season, I saw a Facebook post by a female student who was about to become a senior in college. It read,

“Imagine you want to have your first child before you’re 30 years old. Then you need give birth when you’re 28 to 29, which means you need to get pregnant around 27. Suppose you would like to enjoy two years of married life before getting pregnant. Then you need to get married when you’re 25.

It takes a year from getting engaged to getting married. So you need to be engaged at 24, and before that you need to spend at least two years with your partner. This means you must find a potential marriage partner when you’re 22. You will need another year to determine your future spouse, implying you have to meet this person when you’re 21. Thinking about it this way, time suddenly feels so pressing…"

At the time, I thought very little of what she said, but something was off. Now I suddenly realize what was wrong. (This has nothing to do with the fact I’m turning 30.)

All of this is because the education and society in Taiwan pushes us to be faster.

Junior high is for getting into a good high school, high school is to enter a top college, and graduating from college is to get a respectable job (men might have to serve in the military first). Getting married follows after and then comes building a family. After this cycle, the next generation is unfortunately asked to go through the exact same thing (just like the video below).

The moment the student asked the question was actually a good start, because it meant he had already started to reflect and doubt.

One of a student’s responsibilities is indeed to study and take exams. There is no right or wrong to this. But has anyone ever thought why we need to learn these textbooks or take the tests?

Take the recent adjustments in curriculums for example. As a high school student, shouldn’t you care about the meaning behind learning civics and history instead of what might pop up in an exam? Likewise, are students right just because they are protesting? Does it mean you should do whatever students from the top three high schools are doing so? Are teachers or textbooks always right? Can’t students try to research facts themselves?

What I want to ask is how have Taiwanese high school students enhanced their critical thinking abilities? Or do they merely wish to come through in the college entrance exam?

Photo Credit:  chia ying Yang  @ Flickr CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit: chia ying Yang @ Flickr CC BY 2.0

Take a look at the philosophy question in the French college entrance exam. 684,000 French high school students began their battle for a higher education on June 17 with the philosophy exam. “Is respecting all lives a moral responsibility?” and “Can politics be separated from reality?” were the questions that were most widely discussed by netizens.

I also recalled a friend’s experience studying abroad. He said that during his time overseas, he studied with his life and always answered the questions precisely. But as the semesters went by, he realized he was never at the top of the class and hadn’t even got a full score before. He became frustrated to the point he started suspecting the professor of being racist.

Then one day, he accidentally caught a glimpse of the exam paper belonging to the student who was at the top of the class and suddenly realized something. Written on the paper weren’t the precise answers, but more strictly saying, they were the real answers.

The student didn’t just answer the questions. For example, if the problem was what is the sum of A+B? The student didn’t just answer A+B=C (assuming C is the so-called correct answer); instead he wrote down all the possible answers under different circumstances, such as, under context I, the answer would be C1, but under context II, it would be C2 because…and so on.

My friend finally understood he never had to think before writing down his answers. They were only results of him studying day and night and coming straight out of a textbook. But isn’t critical thinking an ability we should obtain while we are in school?

Is getting into college and high school that important? It’s no more than a test, and a test can’t determine my life (at least I have this confidence). Our society is always telling us when to finish high school, when to graduate from college and asking why we’re not working.

Speaking as someone who hasn’t followed the usual course of completing high school up to graduate school, the question should be, “Am I ready to take the next step?”

Translated by Olivia Yang