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July 07
2014 年 7 月 7 日

美國大學與兩岸大學
的差異

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常被問:美加大學與兩岸大學有什麼不同?

這個問題可以有許多答案。

中國大陸一學期授課21周,台灣18周,美國13周(年2學期制的大學,年4學期制的大學則每學期約8周);所以,表面上看,美國的大學生輕鬆許多。

其中卻有一個現象,兩岸四地的大學生不論用功與否,幾乎人人畢業;美國的大學生活辛苦,課業扎實繁重,只有一半的人得以畢業。

兩岸大學生,其用功者把教授交代的課業做好,而大學則重視「會教課的老師」,伶牙俐齒的教授一向受學生歡迎,報章也樂於報導。美國的大學生在課堂上課的時數雖少,然而大學生投入的專題課程則很多,會講話的教授未必吃香。兩岸的大學生修課以量取勝,美國的大學則以讓學生學習透徹為主軸。

最近,一名印度工程師發表了「令人憂慮,不閱讀的中國人」一文,紅遍網路。他提到在大陸大學的電腦室裏看到許多學生玩遊戲,在圖書館查閱資料或閱讀課外書籍的學生很少。讀書好像變成了「學者」的專利,也許很多「學者」也不見得看書,或者看了書也未必消化得了。社會上喜誇讚讀了很多書的人,並不在意那些人到底書讀透了沒有。

印度工程師的講話,佐證了我的觀察。兩岸的大學生普遍對課堂、教授指定的份內課程盡忠,然而在照樣畫完葫蘆之後,似乎就不再多涉獵書本,或做研究探討。我們的大學教授基本上盡了傳道、授業的職責。美國的大學教授授課嚴謹,要求學生多探究開放性(open-ended)的問題,大學教授盡力達成解惑的任務,並重視格物致知的使命。在美國讀大學,沒有人保證你一定可以畢業!特別值得玩味又有道理的是,美國好的大學(排名佳者)學生畢業率高,較差的畢業率低,很差的畢業率就很低。

可否這麼說:能從美國的大學畢業,應該有些學問;而兩岸的大學畢業生,程度就參差不齊了。

註:本文曾載於聯合報(2014年5月26日)。

Universities in the US versus those in Greater China: How do they differ?

A question I am often asked is, "What are the differences between universities in North America and those in the Greater China area?"

There are various answers to this question.

In mainland China, there are 21 weeks in one semester; in Taiwan, 18 weeks; in the United States, 13 weeks in universities that have two semesters a year, and eight weeks in those that have four semesters a year. Therefore, on the face of it, US college students appear to lead more relaxed lives.

But it should be pointed out that almost every college student in the four areas of Greater China (including Hong Kong and Macau] can graduate whether they study hard or not, while in the United States, students must study very hard to finish their weighty and challenging schoolwork; and only half of them graduate.

Among the Chinese students, those hard-working ones satisfactorily do their homework set by teachers, and the universities value "those teachers who are good at delivering lectures". In addition, eloquent teachers are always very popular with students, enjoying high visibility and media exposure. On the contrary, although they have fewer class hours, US students have to take many project-oriented courses, and a well-spoken teacher may not be so highly valued on campus. While Chinese students take more courses than their US counterparts, American universities revolve around the principle that students have to fully grasp what they study.

Recently, a very popular online article titled "Chinese who don't read" written by an Indian engineer who said that he saw quite a few students playing video games in computer rooms in many mainland universities, whereas few were doing research or reading non-textbook materials in the libraries. Reading seems to have become a right enjoyed only by "academics", and even many "academics" may not read either, or even if they do, it is doubtful whether they understand the true meaning of the books. Ordinary people in society like to praise those who devour a lot of books but hardly care whether the latter have really digested them.

The Indian engineer's view confirms what I have observed. University students in Greater China, generally speaking, try to finish their courses and assignments, but after completing them, according to a set model or pattern, it seems they don't do further reading, conduct research or explore further. Basically, university teachers in these areas dutifully pass on theories and impart knowledge, whereas their American counterparts do much more. They teach their classes in a more professional manner, demand that their students raise open-ended questions, and do their best to answer queries and focus on the mission of "studying Nature's phenomena to seek knowledge".

In fact, in American universities, no one guarantees that you will graduate. Essentially, leading universities (i.e. high-ranking ones) in the United States have higher graduation rates; the worse the university, the lower the rate.

So, it can be reasonably said that those who graduate from US universities must have acquired some knowledge. When it comes to graduates from universities in the Greater China area, the level of competence is uneven.

Note:
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (26 May, 2014).

7 July, 2014

 

 

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