The President Must Understand the Importance of 12 Year Compulsory Education
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 8, 2010
On August 28 and 29, the Republic of China government held a two-day National Conference on Education. According to reports, about 900 people participated. The participants offered 10 major recommendations, and 28 minor recommendations. The recommendations included everything but the kitchen sink, from college to kindergarten, from teacher training to educational curricula. The conclusions were made into a four hundred plus page conference report. The conference cost several million NT, lasted two days, mobilized several hundred participants, and published a incoherent grab bag of suggestions no is ever going to read. It was nothing more than an expensive show. It showed that the educational bureaucracy doesn't have the first clue where education ought to be headed. Political observer Jaw Shau-kong recently suggested that 80 percent of the cabinet ought to be replaced, members of the Culture and Education Directorate included.
Vanishing junior colleges and how junior high students should be promoted to senior high are issues of the greatest concern. Ironically, these issues of obvious importance were given short shrift. The top ten recommendations of the National Conference on Education include: contemporary citizenship, the educational system, universal participation in sports, entrance exams, higher education, cultural diversity, teacher education, the knowledge-based economy, cross-Strait and international relations, and lifelong learning. This laundry list allowed no conflicting points of view. It was all talk and no action. It offered platitudes about room for improvement, and reached no conclusions of significance. These issues are not unworthy of discussion. But they hardly required a conference attended by over 900 people.
Path-breaking issues require genuine vision and a broad perspective. They inevitably provoke disagreement over the details. The ruling administration was terrified of making any commitments to the public, because they feared controversy over minor differences. Therefore they issued ringing declarations concerning utterly non-controversial matters. This is what was so pathetic about the educational conference.
The educational conference issued 10 major resolutions, and 28 minor resolutions. If one had to pick a single issue, the one with with the greatest impact on people's lives and the most far-reaching consequences for Taiwan, it would have to be 12 year compulsory education. The National Conference on Education promised that these issues would be studied by an inter-departmental group, and that a timetable for their implementation would be announced. This is truly discouraging. Leave the long term aside for the moment. Three and a half years ago, Premier Su Tseng-chang was premier. Lin Wan-yi was Commissioner of Culture and Education. The two boldly promised to promote 12 year compulsory education. The Executive Yuan announced a timetable for the implementation of all necessary measures. Su Tseng-chang is no longer in office, and the ruling party has changed. But aren't governmental policies supposed to have continuity? The plan was passed by the Executive Yuan. Can it really be terminated at the drop of a hat? The Ma administration says it is postponing the implementation of 12 year compulsory education for two years. Doesn't it owe the public an explanation? Is something wrong with the previous plan? If so, what is it? If educational reform programs must return to square one each time the Executive Yuan undergoes reorganization, what does that say about our commitment to educational reform?
Those who truly understand education know that the most important reason to promote 12 year compulsory education is to remove the bottleneck between junior high and senior high. What junior high and primary school students are taught is general knowledge. They are given a very basic civic education. The purpose of this civic education is to instill an attitude of tolerance for diversity. A civic education is the foundation of modern citizenship. Conceptually speaking, students never should have been graded on the basic principles of civics. Fifteen year olds should never have sorted on the basis of test scores at such an early stage. Students should never have been forcibly herded into certain specialties based on their academic scores. If they are, it will merely encourage students to engage in rote memorization. The result will be rigid thinking, the proliferation of cram schools, the homogenization of education, and the the inhibition of students' social development and aesthetic sensibilities. The consequences are difficult to enumerate. But they will surely manifest themselves in children after they mature. Premature specialization undermines social harmony and is unconducive to national prosperity. In a competitive society, no one objects to specialization. But modern society has an entirely different understanding of specialization. No one favors indiscriminately forcing immature 15-year-old children into this or that specialty based on general education academic scores.
No nation with a per capita income of 20,000 USD has a system like ours. None of them engages in large-scale screening between junior high and senior high. We urge President Ma to discuss the core problems of education with educational experts, to listen to their presentations, and truly understand the key issues in secondary education. Only then will he understand the importance of 12 year compulsory education. The Ministry of Education has raised the issue of inequality between high and mid level occupations. It has raised the issue of recruiting by a small number of elite senior high schools. It has raised the issue of educational funding. But none of these anywhere as serious as 12 year compulsory education. Implementation is more important than believing. Beginning is more important than planning. Getting up and doing is preferable to sitting and talking. One cannot refuse to eat because one might choke on one's food. This cannot be an excuse to delay 12 year compulsory education.
Twelve year compulsory education should have been implemented long ago. Plans were drawn up long ago. A timetable was proposed three years ago. Now the government is refusing to proceed merely because its leader has yet to fully comprehend the importance of 12 year compulsory education. Conferences held within the system will invariably issue recommendations that its leader wants to hear. Therefore the key question is: Just what is President Ma's understanding of 12 year compulsory education?