Taiwan's Lee Yuan Tseh

Lee Yuan-tseh, president of Taiwan's Academia Sinica think tank and the island's top education reformer, wants students to study less so they will learn more. It's a novel notion for Taiwan's rigid, high-intensity school system. But if anyone has the clout to change minds about education, it's Lee. As the first native Taiwanese to win a Nobel prize, Lee is esteemed in a society that reveres academics. His ideas are like a welcome breeze wafting through the stuffy hallways of Taiwan's school system.

The problem with Taiwan's education, says Lee, is that the rigorous examination system encourages students to be test-taking machines, not problem solvers. There's no room for late bloomers or slow learners. The problems are similar in Japan and South Korea.

Lee worries that Taiwan--famous for its bright engineers who have built a thriving and globally competitive electronics industry--will miss the next step up the technology ladder if it doesn't train more creative thinkers and invest more in research. "Taiwan was under a repressive regime for a long time," says Lee, 61, who spent 32 years at Berkeley. "We were not brought up to express ourselves well."

Currently, Lee is working to attract top overseas academics like himself back to Tai- wan--36 so far. "They have a lot of experience. Those are the ones we need here, both for research and education," he says. If his successes continue, Taiwan will reap the benefit as more youth come into contact with the best minds Taiwan can muster.

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