Fos­ter­ing lead­er­ship: The steep climb for Tai­wan

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Lo­cal univer­sity stu­dents be­liev­ing them­selves to be ea­ger and en­tre­pre­neur­ial have in­stead found them­selves get­ting schooled on a course re­gard­ing en­ti­tle­ment and elitism af­ter a pro­posed plan to crowd­fund a hik­ing ex­pe­di­tion ran afoul of public sen­ti­ment. Un­for­tu­nately for so­ci­ety as a whole, how the univer­sity stu­dents orig­i­nally con­ceived of the pro­ject re­veals much deeper prob­lems in our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that must be ad­dressed be­yond merely re­buk­ing these young in­di­vid­u­als.

Three of the four ma­jor news­pa­pers in Tai­wan placed as their head­line story the crowd­sourc­ing cam­paign look­ing to raise NT$500,000 (ap­prox­i­mately US$16,200) for 25 univer­sity stu­dents to com­plete a moun­tain climb­ing ex­pe­di­tion. The web­site “Climb for Tai­wan” has drawn a great deal of public ire for the Na­tional Tai­wan Univer­sity stu­dents and their pro­fes­sor who asked the public to in­vest in the next gen­er­a­tion of so­ci­etal lead­er­ship.

Public out­rage on the whole ques­tioned of why univer­sity stu­dents from the top aca­demic body in the na­tion needed to have their hik­ing ex­pe­di­tion, in­clud­ing spe­cial­ized equip­ment and cloth­ing, crowd­funded if it was not for char­i­ta­ble rea­sons. They also pointed to the ex­am­ple of ele­men­tary school stu­dents who had funded grad­u­a­tion trips by selling self-made prod­ucts as a means of public sham­ing. The pro­fes­sor guid­ing the univer­sity stu­dents was will­ing to apol­o­gize yesterday if the fund­ing plan was un­clear. Some of the stu­dents in­volved were taken aback by the ex­tremely neg­a­tive public re­sponse, while still oth­ers claimed that the plan was orig­i­nally in­tended to be seen by cor­po­rate donors only.

Mis­guided as the stu­dents’ plans are con­cern­ing lead­er­ship and their sense of en­ti­tle­ment, we need to move be­yond ridi­cul­ing the en­ter­prise, by ask­ing our­selves why a great num­ber of well-ed­u­cated Tai­wanese youth have fallen into the trap that in­ad­ver­tently sows the seeds of elitism in top-tier in­sti­tu­tions, since their ideas could not just have ma­te­ri­al­ized from thin air, but are very much con­nected with a so­ci­ety that sees fi­nan­cial acu­men as the great­est po­ten­tial for lead­er­ship.

We should be heart­ened that these young peo­ple see rig­or­ous ac­tiv­ity and team­work through the chal­lenge of travers­ing nat­u­ral land­scapes as im­por­tant in the demon­stra­tion of lead­er­ship, but even if we mo­men­tar­ily set aside the is­sue of fund­ing the ex­pe­di­tion, one can rec­og­nize that this vi­sion of lead­er­ship shows an ab­sence of com­mit­ment to serv­ing the com­mu­nity. The belief in the sense of com­mu­nity must be forged through­out the rifts, sum­mits and vi­cis­si­tudes of each per­son’s life through fail­ure as well as suc­cess. It is a process of self-dis­cov­ery and ques­tion­ing that can­not sim­ply be in­cu­bated or funded, but can be en­cour­aged and guided by fos­ter­ing com­mu­nity ser­vice in which lead­ers do not stand out­side so­ci­ety. It is a sense of ser­vice that is not de­vised as merely a means to an end such as pres­tige, but rather one of ful­fill­ing so­cial needs.

The sec­ond is­sue con­cerns the sense of en­ti­tle­ment: Why should these stu­dents be tasked with lead­ing so­ci­ety in the fu­ture? Is it be­cause they scored high on col­lege en­trance ex­ams and have now en­tered the hal­lowed halls of higher learn­ing? Are said en­trance re­quire­ments a mea­sure of lead­er­ship? We, how­ever, can­not end this civics les­son by posit­ing these ques­tions alone.

Each stu­dent has the po­ten­tial for lead­er­ship no mat­ter what their fi­nan­cial back­ground, but if we con­tinue to deny the un­der­ly­ing prob­lems that cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment in which our na­tion’s most elite stu­dents be­lieve that crowd­fund­ing is the most vi­able av­enue for them to lead so­ci­ety, soul search­ing must spread through­out our en­tire so­ci­ety. In this re­spect, we all must ask the fol­low­ing ques­tions:

Are we pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple to ex­plore their in­ter­ests be­yond their aca­demic marks and our pre­con­ceived ex­pec­ta­tions?

Are we build­ing or dis­man­tling egal­i­tar­i­an­ism into our sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion that pro­motes di­a­logue among all seg­ments of so­ci­ety; a di­a­logue cen­tral to the pro­mot­ing of so­ci­etal em­pa­thy?

Does our sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion, both in schools and at home, pri­or­i­tize the ac­qui­si­tion of ma­te­rial wealth above all other forms of cre­at­ing a sus­tain­able, in­ter­de­pen­dent com­mu­nity?

Stu­dents in ev­ery univer­sity in Tai­wan can use this valu­able, though im­promptu ex­pe­ri­ence of their co­hort to pro­mote much needed di­a­logue.

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