Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 8 News List

`One book' proposal is a return to dictatorship

By Hsu Yue-dian 許育典

Since Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) took office on Dec. 25, the city's Department of Education has held daily meetings to plan for his "one textbook per syllabus" policy for secondary education.

This reveals a misunderstanding of democracy and the rule of law.

To win elections, some politicians would rather sacrifice education and the rule of law for populist agendas offering short-term solutions.

But education cannot be sacrificed; it is the very foundation of a vibrant democracy.

As a visiting professor at a German university, I have witnessed first hand how democracy works in Germany. Democracy is a guiding principle throughout their system.

Taiwan is missing an important ingredient in its democracy -- our politicians are not interested in trying to get to the root of a problem.

Voters love Hau's proposed policy because teachers, parents and students would all benefit in the short term.

Teachers would need less time to prepare lessons, parents would spend less on textbooks, and students would spend less time studying.

In addition, the government would decide the content of the textbooks.

Would this kind of education benefit the nation in the long run?

The fundamental problem plaguing the nation's education lies in the fixation on gaining entry to a top school.

Hau's proposal does not address the problems with our education system. In fact, it is a violation of the Constitution.

Such methods were repeatedly questioned and criticized during the 10-year education reform program.

Before the reform, all textbooks were published by the National Institute for Compilation and Translation (國立編譯館), but that was changed.

The problem of textbook content remains, however, and putting an end to interference from political ideologies is a key issue.

If we were to return to the past policy of a single textbook per syllabus, the potential for a political party to influence education would only increase.

Such a problem is not surprising in an authoritarian state. But Taiwan is democratic and has undergone a decade-long educational reform process.

That we are still dealing with problems like political interference in education is simply unacceptable.

Despite the country's democratization, the public and politicians seem to have a hard time shedding the mindset of Taiwan's authoritarian history.

Politicians all believe that their perspective is the correct one, and they are eager to impose their view on the education system.

If we allow them to do so, we are allowing a power that has no place in a democracy.

Hau's proposal would revert to a policy we already fought to shed during the education reform.

Astonishingly, the Taipei City Government seems blissfully unaware that if Hau's proposal were implemented, it would violate the freedom of publication protected by the Constitution.

Since the city authorities are ignoring that fact, our last hope in this matter is the Ministry of Education.

Article 162 of the Constitution states that all public and private educational and cultural institutions in the country shall be subject to state supervision.

The Ministry of Education is bound by the Constitution to supervise the Taipei City Government's Department of Education.

Hsu Yue-dian is a professor in the Department of Law at National Cheng Kung University.

Translated by Eddy Chang

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