Is the Executive Yuan Serious about its Pledge to Implement 12 Years of National Education?
Translation of a United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 28, 2007
"The lengthening of compulsory education to 12 years will be implemented within three years." Is this the key to Premier Su Chen-Chang's newest report on administration policy? Hardly. This is the policy Premier Li Huan announced many years ago. The year was 1989.
The government has been declaring that it would implement Twelve Years of Compulsory Education for nearly two decades. In early 2000, then Kuomintang presidential candidate Lien Chan made a similar policy announcement, declaring that "The time is ripe." And so it is with Su Chen-chang, who also claims that his proposal was not motivated by election concerns.
When we review the decision-making process, we do so not to poor mouth a major policy proposal put forth by Premier Su. Investing in education is never a wrong choice, and is a policy all citizens should welcome.
Twelve Years of National Education is easy to talk about, but hard to implement. It is easy to pander to voters by making empty promises, but after nearly 20 years of talk nobody has actually been able to do it. Clearly there are difficulties in implementation and differences in opinion that are not easily resolved.
When Premier Hao Pei-tsun succeeded Lee Huan, he resorted to more moderate methods, experimenting with a policy of exempting students from the need to pass senior high entrance exams. But where is his "Junior High Graduate Optional Schooling Plan" today? Touted as the basic post-junior high scholastic aptitude test, following the abolition of the Standardized Entrance Exam, hasn't it also forced ninth graders to study long hours cramming to make it into senior high school?
Obviously, when it comes to qualifying for senior high school, the slogan "Twelve years of National Education" is easy to shout, but the competitive pressures are not so easy to eliminate.
If the Su cabinet's policy of Twelve Years of National Education is for real, it must have the answer to a key question. According to news reports, former Minister of Education Huang Jung-tsun believes that funding is the major problem. Lin Wan-yi, the political affairs committee member responsible for project planning says the Executive Yuan has already earmarked the funds as subsidies for socially-disadvantaged students attending private schools. Frankly, given a policy of "The Poor must not be Poorly Educated," the biggest problem is not funding. The opposition parties in the legislature will not give the ruling government a hard time on this budget item. The problem is the Executive Yuan, which has listed the "Economically-disadvantaged, Privately-established Senior high School Student School Expense Subsidy" as its highest priority for the year. Obviously it doesn't think much of the Twelve Years of National Education policy. Is the difference in tuition really the issue that most worries senior high students attending private schools? Or is it disparities in school quality leading to disparities in the ability to compete for university admissions? If we fail to confront this central issue, then the issue of Twelve Years of National Education will remain rife with controversy and strewn with land mines.
On the face of it, the Twelve Years of National Education policy will allow everyone at the senior high level the opportunity to attend school. In reality the question is far more complex. Beginning in 1980s, the rate at which junior high graduates attended senior high school exceeded 100%. By the 1990s the recruiting quotas for senior high school and vocational school far exceeded their enrolled population. Private school vacancies reached as high as 10,000 per year. Obviously the problem was not too few schools, but that junior high graduates continued fighting each other tooth and nail qualifying for a tiny number of elite schools. Objective reality and parental perception remained unchanged. As long as the academic quality of senior high schools remained wildly uneven, students could not simply attend senior high schools in their local community and assume they would remain eligible for the university of their choice. The brutal reality was that students would find themselves handicapped during college admissions because economic disadvantages, regional disadvantages, and educational resource disadvantages forced them to attended less than ideal community schools. How can this be considered fair?
Educational Reform has been around for many years now. The trend has been toward "community high schools." This direction is correct. But the quality of community high schools has remained uneven, and the quantity of community high schools has remained inadequate. For this reason most parents push their children to get into elite schools, creating enormous pressure upon junior high students. Premier Su's proposal for Twelve Years of National Education includes a "Senior High Quality Improvement Plan." But if he wishes to implement such an ambitious plan in every school district across the land, can he really complete the process before 2009? Since the government has boldly promised to transform all senior high schools into providers of a "Basic Education for all Citizens," it must guarantee that such a "Basic Education" will provide all citizens with the same educational resources and the same quality schools. If it cannot fulfill its promise, if it allows students enrolled in "good school districts" to enjoy an unfair advantage and forces students enrolled in less than ideal community schools to flee to schools outside their district, then isn't Premier Su's "Basic Education for all Citizens" nothing but empty talk?
Whether the basic scholastic aptitude test will be held in 2009 remains in question. The Executive Yuan and the Ministry of Education have issued contradictory statements. Nor have the "Nationwide Regional Administrative Public Hearings to solicit Public Opinion" been held.
Is the Twelve Years of National Education plan scheduled for the year after next ready for implementation? Are the conditions ripe? The answer ought to be clear. Junior high students and their parents are going out of their minds with worry, and not without reason. They had better be prepared to "look after number one."
Original Chinese below: