Extend and Correct National Compulsory Education
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 5, 2011
In his Year 100 New Year's Day message, President Ma spoke of "bai nian shu ren," i.e., the long term cultivation of the individual, as one of his four main hopes. He also announced that he would begin implementing this policy immediately. The extension of national compulsory education is important. National compulsory education was extended from six years to nine years in 1968. Forty-three years later, it was extended from nine years to 12 years. As we can see, this step was a difficult one.
National Compulsory Education refers to the universal education of every citizen. Every national government provides such an education, either free, or at extremely low cost, via subsidies. It is accompanied by compulsory schooling or homeschooling laws. Only this can ensure that each citizen receives an education. Many scholars have pointed out that in modern society, education is probably where state intervention in the affairs of the people is the greatest. The government is extending National Compulsory Education, This means that state intervention in education will be even greater and more widespread than before. Therefore, before discussing 12 year compulsory education, we should examine the proper role of government in education. This will enable us to get to the heart of the problem, and arrive at the right policy decisions.
Even readers not familiar with educational literature, will have at least a rough understanding. Centuries and millennia ago, the state's role in public education was virtually nil. Parents sought out private schools for their children. Which private school they enrolled in, and which books, authored by which sages they would read, were all private decisions. In ancient China or medieval Europe, few states underwrote public schools. China's imperial court established a central library, a Wen Yuan Ge, and other institutions in charge of cultural relics, or research units in charge of compiling history. But it did not interfere with private sector educational content and methods. The government held unified national examinations each year. But the examination system exerted only an indirect effect on educational content and educational subject matter. No trace of "national compulsory education" could be found.
Over the past 200 years however, governments the world over gradually began to provide free public education. Two environmental factors play a part. One. With the spread of humanist thought, people's desire for self-realization gradually evolved into the rights of individuals. The government now provides free basic education. This foundation facilitates self-realization. Two. As society becomes more complex, social harmony requires each citizen to be knowledgeable about law, politics, economics, and society. The transmission of this knowledge has become the essence of national education.
The advent of national compulsory education in the Republic of China corresponds to the evolution of these two trends. We have only one regret. The larger goal of national compulsory education may be individual self-realization and social harmony. But our edcational system has never escaped the bonds of the centuries old system for imperial advancement. What is required is a basic national education. But those administering the educational system insist on grouping students according to ability, on establishing elite schools, and on applying irrelevant screening mechanisms. They artificially establish rankings in what should be basic education. Some parents may be behind this. They may have distorted expectations. This is the worst ill afflicting national compulsory education on Taiwan today. The Ma administration wants to extend national compulsory education. He should also consider how he will correct current distortions in the system. He must diagnose the ills in the current educational system. He must not merely increase the length of a distorted education. Doing so will merely exacerbate existing problems, Society will not benefit. It may become even more deeply mired in the nightmare of "educational reform."
The Ministry of Education wants to screen students with academic tests. These would determine whether they are promoted to the next grade. Such tests would constitute 30% of their score. Their purpose of course, is to accommodate existing elite high schools. Educational experts the world over have no objections to elite universities such as Harvard and Stanford. But surely no one wants elite nursery schools, elite kindergartens, and other forms of early screening? Surely no one wants to rank sweet little children using irrelevant ranking systems? Between elite universities and elite kindergartens, at what stage should one begin screening students? That is a matter that may be debated. Reasons can be given for one's position. One may even succeed in changing society's views. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education has no plans to dialogue with the public. It is offering no explanations about how students will be promoted, and grades will be issue under national compulsory education. It is simply laying down the law. Thirty percent of each student's grades will be determined by his academic test scores. The ministry's plans are crude, and their negative impact on national compulsory education cannot be underestimated.
The biggest variable affecting the effectiveness of 12 year national compulsory education, is the percentage of elite high schools or classes. The higher the percentage, the farther the system has strayed from the ideals of national compulsory education. The Ma administration has ambitious plans for the long term cultivation of the individual. Therefore we have been thinking about how to achieve this goal. We must first have a clear understanding of the problem. If we begin by making all sorts of compromises, we limit the effectiveness of current educational reforms. We also fail to inspire people with our ideals. Education is a monumental undertaking that cultivates the individual. Think of students as trees. We must pay attention to everything on the tree, from the roots to the leaves. We must not focus only on those portions of the tree that grow tall and long, and neglect diseases that harm the tree as a whole.