Fri, May 02, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Education minister has homework

By Prudence Chou 周祝瑛

After many twists and turns and endless rounds of speculation, Cheng Jei-cheng (鄭瑞城) was named the next minister of education. With reaction from all sides ranging from shock to delight, it appears that there will be no honeymoon period for the new minister. After May 20, he will need to quickly roll up his sleeves and get right to work.

In light of the past 10 years of chaos in education reform and the anxieties this has produced, any new initiatives must take into consideration cultural traditions while excluding ideology. There needs to be a return to standards based on the fundamentals of education. The professionalism of front-line educators must be respected and more emphasis needs to be placed on communicating with parents and the public.

When setting education policy, several factors must be thoroughly analyzed, including the social trends of birthrate decline and a graying population, the increasing number of children born to foreign spouses, the more than 1.2 million children being raised by grandparents and the gradual development of an M-shaped society.

With these in mind, on behalf of parents and education workers, I call for the following actions to be taken:

First, there needs to be a comprehensive review of the reform problems of the past 10 years. A few days ago president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) restated the commitments he made in his education policy white paper. Therefore, once the minister assumes office, he should establish an “education reform review committee” as soon as possible. The General Report on Education Reform released by the Cabinet’s Committee on Education Reform should be reviewed along with each reform measure in order to understand the results and problems of implementation. The more controversial education policies from recent years should be comprehensively reviewed and resolved at once instead of just making minor tweaks.

For example, issues in urgent need of attention include problems with the 2009 high school curriculum and the 2006 provisional curriculum, the controversy over multiple or single textbook versions for a single curriculum guideline, the requirement that elementary school students learn Chinese, English and a mother tongue language, and the confusion over different Romanization methods

Other issues that need attention are questions over the fairness and effectiveness of diversified enrollment schemes, the distortion of high school enrollment patterns caused by the junior high school Basic Competency Test’s threshold, adjusting the way in which junior high classes are composed either according to standard distribution or by student ability, the proliferation of high schools and universities in spite of a declining birth rate, the compression of vocational education and the weakening of the acquisition of practical skills, adjusting and implementing a practical plan for 12-year compulsory education, determining education budget allocation between the central and local governments and its practical effectiveness, and maintaining positive relations with local education bureaus within their legal and management structures.

Another question is whether the positive aspects of the original teacher training system should be reinstated instead of completely converting into a regular college just for the sake of “transformation.” Also, there is an overemphasis on the Science Citation Index, the Social Science Citation Index and the Engineering Village index when writing theses, leading to the neglect of the pursuit of true educational excellence.

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