Fri, Jan 21, 2000 - Page 12 News List

Education requires clear thinking

By Teng Yun-lin

Vice President Lien Chan (連戰) has proposed extending the current 9-year public education system to 12 years. Minister of Education Kirby Yung (楊朝祥) subsequently pointed out that reviews will needed to determine whether the 12-year system would be offered for free or at a reduced cost and whether it would be compulsory.

However, there does not appear to be a uniform view on the 12-year proposal among the educators.

First, let's take a look at the worldwide trends in education. Most US states have adopted a 12-year public education system. The English system is 11 years. Germany and Japan have a nine year system, but the percentage of Japanese students continuing on to senior high or vocational schools is 94.2 percent.

Only five countries in the world have a 12-year system of public education. So a 12-year system is not an inevitable trend.

It is also questionable to assume that the time is ripe to extend public education to 12 years just because sufficient opportunities exist for junior high graduates in Taiwan to enroll in senior high schools, senior vocational schools and five-year junior colleges.

In Taiwan, the ratio of senior high schools to senior vocational schools is gradually tilting in favor of the former from the current 4:6 ratio. But at present, 43.5 percent of schools are public and 56.5 are private, including both senior high and senior vocational schools.

In other words, less than half of the schools are public.

Some parents were overjoyed by Lien's proposal because they believed their children would no longer face the pressure of trying to get into good schools. Most parents apparently thought that under Lien's proposal their children would be able to enter public schools.

Can the Ministry of Education drastically increase the number of public schools within the next three years?

Or is the government planning to treat private senior high and senior vocational schools as substitutes for public schools -- the way it treated private elementary and junior high schools as substitutes 39 years ago when the 9-year system was introduced?

The percentage of expenditure on eduction in our country's GDP would be reduced from 6.51 percent to just 5.06 percent if your deduct the expenditures for private schools. This figure trails far behind the 9 percent spent by advanced countries on education.

The extension of public education by three years would also seem to require a lot more than a NT$60 billion budget. Too many supporting measures are still lacking.

The history of education tells us that a truely public system is universal, compulsory, free and basic. We cannot assume that a public education system is being implemented simply because an easy-to-achieve feature of such a system has been designated for implementation. Issuing annual coupons for each student is not the same as implementing a public education system.

Does a cost-free education encompass free tuition, free textbooks, free lunch, and/or free transportation? To satisfy public demand, a 12-year public education must be compulsory and free. However, it would take a lot more than a NT$60 billion budget to accomplish all this.

Let us now take a look educational development trends in other advanced countries. The provision of pre-schools for three to five years-olds and the incorporation of pre-schools into the public system are part of a new trend. For example, compulsory education begins at age five in England. Every four or five year-old in France goes to preschool. Even in North Korea, compulsory education begins at five.

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