Wed, Oct 01, 2003 - Page 8 News List

There's still a real need for reform

By Lin Wen-ying 林文瑛

The two-day National Conference on Educational Development saw truly dramatic discussion on the 12-year compulsory education program.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) pointed out at the conference's opening ceremony that the government pushed ahead with educational reform 10 years ago because high-school students faced tremendous pressure over school entrance exams, and now many controversies arising from the reforms revolve around continuing problems with pressure. He said dealing with the pressure of gaining admission to schools is key to the nation's educational reform and a healthy curricular development.

Unfortunately, academics attending the first day of the conference did not pay attention to this core issue and focused their criticism on the 12-year compulsory education program, which in fact could serve as a fundamental solution to the academic pressure.

The opposition forced the Ministry of Education to announce at the end of the first day that there would be no set date for the implementation of the program. Parents' groups followed the announcement by protests so the ministry concluded on the second day that it would "continue to plan" the 12-year compulsory education program.

Ten years ago, one of the main topics at the 7th National Conference on Educational Development was to relieve the pressure imposed on students by entrance exams. Since then, the educational environment has changed a lot. The National Teachers' Association was established, the textbook market was liberalized and multiple ways of getting into senior-high schools and universities were put into practice.

Many people have become interested during the educational reform process. A lot of new vocational and technology schools were set up to provide students with more educational opportunities.

However, such measures have not alleviated the heavy academic pressure on students. We saw teachers beg on their knees for their underperforming students, while elderly people worry about their grandchildren being unable to get into a senior-high school.

Where is the school admission pressure?

In June 2001, the number of junior-high graduates was 300,000, while the number of senior-high freshmen was 118,000. That means the senior-high admission rate was less than 40 percent. The 91,000 freshmen in four-year universities constituted 24 percent of the number of 18-year-olds in the country, 373,000. Such low admission rates force students to attend cram schools even before they start junior high.

So it is absolutely ridiculous to say that senior-high schools combined with vocational schools are more than enough to accommodate all the junior-high graduates. After all, students should be allowed to make their own decisions. If they prefer to study in senior-high schools, they should not be criticized for not choosing the vocational education track.

The past 10 years of educational reform tells us that changing the screening processes of senior-highs and universities cannot alleviate the pressure on students. And increasing the number of vocational schools does not answer the public's needs.

It would be easy to answer questions such as: why are there problems about the policy of developing a variety of textbooks based on the same guidelines? Because it has a lot to do with the context of the entrance exams. Why do we have problems about the diversified enrollment scheme? Because everyone aims at the most advantageous scheme.

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