Diversification for Competitiveness:
12 Year Compulsory Education Needs Broader Horizons
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 17, 2012
Summary: Today, 12 year compulsory education is a response to the Basic Entrance
Examination. The slogan "adaptive learning" sounds good. But the
Ministry of Education must explain the significance of 12 year
compulsory education. It must offer a clear and viable program. It must
eliminate uncertainty for students, parents, and teachers. This will
ensure that this large-scale reform proceeds smoothly, and that
follow-up implementation will be a success.
Full Text below:
Twelve year compulsory education will be implemented next year. Among the major changes will be the abolition of the Basic Competence Test. It will be replaced by a Junior High School Examination. To help students and teachers understand the examination process, the Ministry of Education has made an announcement. At the end of March this year it will test the exam system by means of a pilot program. The pilot program will be implemented in the Keelung/Taipei and Changhua districts. Approximately 100,000 third year junior high students will be tested. The Pilot Examination will be administered by the National Taiwan Normal University Center for Psychology and Education Testing, which wrote the tests. It will determine whether these important tests are being administered properly. The pilot program tests only the technical aspects of 12 year compulsory education. But it amounts to a declaration that 12 year compulsory education has gone from promotion to implementation. It has considerable symbolic significance.
The government implemented nine year compulsory education in 1968. Twelve year compulsory education is the most important reform to basic national education since then. For the moment however, many issues remain unclear. The educational authorities need to offer clearer explanations. First, what is the central goal of 12 year compulsory education? The Ministry of Education says the main goal of 12 year compulsory education is to "reduce examination pressure on students, enable them to learn a wider range of subjects, and to ensure their proper development." Exam pressure is the most serious problem in our educational system. It must be addressed and resolved. But twelve years of compulsory education will have a major impact on teachers, students, and parents. Implementing 12 year compulsory education merely to relieve exam pressure is far too narrow a goal for such a major change in the educational system.
Consider nine year compulsory education. It was a change in educational policy implemented under martial law. There is not much one can say about it. There is not much doubt about what it was. In 1967 Chiang Kai-shek transformed all secondary schools in the nation to junior high schools by the following year. Elementary school students could enter junior high school without taking entrance examinations. The announcement of the nine year compulsory education program coincided with the successful "land to the tiller" policy. Peoples' lives were afforded basic protections. Therefore the national government turned its eyes to education. It attempted to improve the educational level of the people. Society on Taiwan was undergoing transformation, from an agricultural society to an industrial society. This was advance preparation. Later developments confirmed the predicted transformation. Nine-year compulsory education reduced the adult illiteracy rate dramatically, to only two percent. It cultivated many highly qualified mid-level technicians. It established a solid foundation for Taiwan's economic take-off in the 1970s.
Let us examine 12 year compulsory education using our experience with nine year compulsory education. A major change in educational policy should enhance the competitiveness of the nation as a whole. It should reflect a macro-level perspective. It should not be limited to freeing students and parents from exam pressure. It should allow people to feel that the government has made a courageous breakthrough. that it has eliminated a checkpoint between junior high and senior high, that it is maintaining and enhancing the public's scholastic ability and cultural sophistication, that It facilitates the cultivation of talent, that it makes Taiwan more diversified in its abilities, and better able to confront the more diversified and competitive world of the twenty-first century.
Consider the current situation. Educational authorities have done little to explain 12 year compulsory education policy. This and a lack of promotion, has led to chaos and divisions. Some parents fear that elimination of the entrance exam means an absence of exam pressure. An absence of exam pressure means students will slack off, and hurt their chances of getting into college. As a result, many parents are seeking ways to send their children to private schools, mainly to combat the enrollment rate. This may not improve their children's learning. It may create another unfair educational gap between rich students, and poor, disadvantaged, rural students.
The nation will be divided into 15 admission districts. Each district will have different requirements for the "special recruiting" of students. The information provided is chaotic. Many parents cannot tell what kind of future their children face, and what screening checkpoints they will encounter. They are confused and anxious. Consider the "no entrance examination required" admissions aspect. Not every student will be able to gain admission to the school they want. Many students will seek admission to school districts with superior academic records. It may be necessary to either exceed the admissions quotas or to draw lots.
Admissions based on test results are not so bad. But what about reliance on test results, volunteer work, or community service? The pressure on the child may not be any less than it is now. Drawing lots involves mere luck. It is an even less desirable way to determine admissions.
Ten years ago, educational reform was born in an atmosphere of optimism. The Basic Competence Test for junior high was being used for admission to senior high. But the changes were too great. Critics said "it turns students into guinea pigs" or "diversified admissions equals wealthy admissions." The intended impact of educational reform was obliterated.
Today, 12 year compulsory education is a response to the Basic Entrance Examination. The slogan "adaptive learning" sounds good. But the Ministry of Education must explain the significance of 12 year compulsory education. It must offer a clear and viable program. It must eliminate uncertainty for students, parents, and teachers. This will ensure that this large-scale reform proceeds smoothly, and that follow-up implementation will be a success.