Fostering leadership: The steep climb for Taiwan

Fostering leadership: The steep climb for Taiwan
Students attending second foreign language classes at Fu Jen Catholic University's Second Foreign Language Centre
PHOTO: Fu Jen Catholic University

Local university students in Taiwan 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 S$21,756) 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 specialised 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 apologise 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 materialised 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 recognise 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, prioritise 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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