Sat, Feb 15, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Are the textbook changes legal?

By William Lai 賴清德

Teaching is a vocation, but it is important that history does not stray from the facts. Two years ago, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) set out the senior-high school history curriculum guidelines. Not two years later and out of the blue it has decided to make further amendments. Pray tell: What has changed? And if these amendments are supposed to be constitutional, does that mean they were unconstitutional two years ago? What is the real reason behind making these “minor adjustments”? Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) should explain the following, and how he thinks they are legal:

First, where is the legal basis for the ministry declaring that existing textbook publishing licenses will no longer be valid following the announcement of the amendments to the curriculum guidelines? The ministry’s administrative Regulations on the Review and Approval of Senior-High School Textbooks (高級中等學校教科用書審定辦法), passed on Jan. 6, is authorized by the Senior-High School Act (高級中學法) and the Senior-High School Education Act (高級中等教育法), the latter of which is due to take effect in August.

Article 14 of the regulations clearly states: “Having been reviewed and approved, textbooks shall be valid for a period of six years from the date the publishing license is issued and until the end of the academic term during which this period expires or such time as an extension by the approval authority expires.”

Therefore, while it does talk of extending the period of textbook license validity, nowhere is there any stipulation on shortening it. Whether in terms of the efficiency of executive discipline or the principle of legitimate expectation, until such time as their licenses have expired, it is questionable if it is legal for publishers to continue printing textbooks in their current form.

Second, in the absence of regulation on the issue in the period when the Senior-High School Act still has not been abolished and the Senior-High School Education Act has yet to take effect, is it legal for the MOE to implement its own internal 14-point regulations governing the composition and operation of the National Twelve-Year Basic Education Program review committee?

Even if the 14-point regulations are valid, the highest level of the curriculum guideline review mechanism would be the main review committee, subordinate to which is a hierarchy of secondary review committees and task forces responsible for each level of education. However, the ministry stated in a Feb. 5 press release that, in response to suggestions from educators, the National Academy for Educational Research had invited experts who had either previously served or were currently sitting on review task forces in the fields of society or language to make plans and preparations for the minor adjustments to the curriculum guidelines. The value of the “review task force” spoken of in this release is suspect and certainly falls short of the legal body mentioned in the 14-point regulations.

By having the curriculum guideline amendments decided and influenced by a task force that is not legally authorized to do so, Chiang is allowing the whole process to descend into little more than a rubber-stamp endorsement. Again: Is this legal?

Third, do the members who make up the review task force have any expertise in history as a discipline? Respect for expertise is one of the fundamental requirements of a democratic, diverse society. Having a review task force that does not have legal status already deprives the process of validity, but when the people in charge are economists without even the most basic training in history, how can they be expected to pronounce what should be taught in a history class?

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