Tue, Jul 15, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Education is a right, but a costly one

Education is an important part of the nation's economic development and social reforms. Recently, disputes over educational-reform policies -- such as textbook variety, the compatibility between different versions of textbooks, admission tests, the selection of teachers and tuition policies -- have given rise to concerns that education may became a major obstacle to social mobility, as opposed to being the main driving force behind social mobility. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), the son of a farmer, became a legend when he was elected in 2000. But many people are worried that he could be the last of his kind. Chen, however, has defended the education-reform policies on his official Web site.

From authoritarianism to freedom, the nation's educational reforms have walked a difficult path over the past decade or so. The promotion of these reforms has not been perfect. Disorder and chaos can be seen now and again. Criticism from the public is a matter of course. But we must also say that schools, curricula and students have evidently become more lively, more pluralistic and more energetic. While evaluating the pros and cons of educational reforms, an all-round, fair and progressive vision must be established in order to avoid bias or prejudice.

Due to the 921 earthquake and the nation's economic doldrums, some poor children have been deprived of the right to education. Some elementary and junior-high school students can't afford school meals. University tuition is so high that some students who gain admission can't afford to go to school. These are all facts, but would it be fair to reject the ongoing educational reforms all-out for this reason? In the past, only 30 percent of students were admitted into college, but the low-tuition policy allowed all students who gained admission to be able to receive university education. Students from poor families could get loans, scholarships or part-time jobs, enabling them to attend university.

But the low-tuition policies also forced universities to completely rely on government subsidies. School operations became ossified and staid as a result. Tuitions are higher than before, but they are not very high compared to universities in many other countries. This is only the result of making tuition fees more reasonable.

Some politicians are trying to fool the public into believing that education is now a privilege reserved for rich people and that poor kids will have no chance to receive higher education. This is not true. Universities are not part of the nation's basic-education system, but the government still subsidizes about 20 percent of the operations of private universities. This is already quite rare anywhere in the world. College tuition in this country is quite low among the non-welfare states. In welfare states, tuition fees may be extremely low, or college education may be completely free of charge, but the public pays for these amenities with high tax rates.

The key question is whether the public is willing to pay more taxes in order to keep tuition fees low. It's not a question of young people being unable to receive a higher education due to an exploitative class structure.

University education is not compulsory. In many countries it is not unusual for students to have part-time jobs and apply for scholarships or loans to pay for their college education. It is indeed deplorable, however, that some students can't afford to pay for their books or school meals during their primary and secondary-school years or that qualified high-school graduates can't afford to go on to college. Interest rates on student loans should be reduced, the number of scholarships increased and unemployment payments to poor people be raised so that poor children can also receive a good education. Tragic individual cases should not be used as tools for political wrangling.

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