Last Monday, school authorities in Taipei City, Taipei County and Keelung City announced that they would arrange joint entrance exams for senior and vocational high schools starting in 2011. The announcement implies that the region’s “one-guideline, single textbook” policy is just a step toward establishing jointly organized exams.
The Taipei-Keelung region is pushing the textbook policy and joint exams to reduce student pressure, but looking at news reports about the plans, one cannot help but worry.
The president of a prestigious senior high school for girls said the exams would have little impact on enrolment and a teachers’ representative said allowing students to move from district to district would resolve the heavy imbalance suffered by public senior and vocational high schools in different regions of Taiwan.
However, by opening only 10 percent of its seats to students from other cities and counties, the Taipei-Keelung region is purposefully blocking most students from central and southern Taiwan. These policies are meant to combat an expected rise in competition for continued studies.
This is understandable. The problem has never been the current policy. The current system with one textbook compiled by the Ministry of Education was similar to the proposed “one-guideline, single textbook” policy. Were students under less pressure then?
The scoring system of a joint entrance exam together with the standardized answers from the “one-guideline, single textbook” policy would offer a precise screening system. This kind of system, which ranks students from highest to lowest based purely on test scores, is a key component in “promotionism” — seeking advancement to higher levels of education without regard to personal interests or quality of learning.
With “promotionism” guiding education, changing from a system that allows multiple textbooks to a system that allows only one textbook will do nothing to relieve student pressure.
Since the pressure to advance is not quantifiable, it is difficult to prove that joint exams and a single textbook will fail to relieve student pressure. On the other hand, it is also difficult to prove the opposite.
Still, pinning the hope for relieving student pressure on these measures sacrifices educational diversity. A look at daily life shows that not everyone likes to eat rice, but when the educational authorities demand that all students use the same textbook, they ignore individual differences and may even destroy a child’s future.
Taipei City, Taipei County and Keelung City defend their policies by saying that a single textbook does not necessarily lead to uniformity and that the problem can by resolved by teachers using diverse teaching methods. This claim, however, intentionally overlooks how textbooks direct the curriculum in Taiwan.
If teachers could direct the curriculum, any textbook would be equally effective, which raises two questions: How would a single textbook system relieve student pressure and why should the Taipei-Keelung region push so hard for it?
Whether the region’s joint exam and textbook policy can relieve student pressure remains uncertain. But the region’s educational authorities are playing with the core of education — diversity. In this educational reform, the Taipei-Keelung region is showing a lack of fundamental thinking on ”promotionism” by recklessly pushing for jointly organized exams and a single textbook. Whether deliberately or inadvertently, they will end up increasing “promotionism.”
Hsu Yue-dian is director of the Department of Law at National Cheng Kung University, and Ling He is a doctoral student in the department.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG
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