The recent “minor adjustments” made by the Ministry of Education to the senior-high school curriculum for Chinese language, history and civics textbooks have not only been questioned in terms of content, the very process used for making these adjustments has also been widely questioned.
The textbooks targeted for adjustment based on the new course outline have still not been completed and the licenses issued to publishers of the current lot of history textbooks — the first to receive approval for content change — still have four years left on them. The changes are said to be minor, but they involve major changes and are therefore unreasonable.
There has been a lot of talk about acting in accordance with the Constitution so let us consider this particular problem from the perspective of the right to receive an education.
According to the basic spirit of modern constitutionalism, people’s right to learn should be protected by the Constitution. How can a country claim to be a constitutional democracy when it does not respect the right to receive an education and while trying to use state power to control the content of that education?
Reasonable (minor) adjustments to the curriculum must at least be based on a certain degree of expertise to guarantee that they are created in a professional way. Attention must also be given to the legitimacy of the process. Even if this is the case, the government cannot write up a curriculum to monopolize the content of education or textbooks.
According to Chapter 11 of the Constitution, which deals with the relative powers of the central and local governments, the central government is responsible for writing the laws regulating the educational system, which it can then enforce or delegate to local government. However, authority over local education is part of local government autonomy and the government cannot deprive local governments of that right with a simple administrative order.
Furthermore, academic freedom and the freedom of teachers to plan their classes are also part of human rights. As the major basis for educational content and entrance examinations, the regulatory character of the curriculum and its supplementary nature need to be respected. The curriculum should be used as a principle and as long as textbooks embody the principles governing the curriculum, additional materials taught by teachers as supplements to meet their students’ particular needs should be respected as long as they do not run counter to academic professionalism.
The recent resolution by the National Academy for Education Research’s Committee of Curriculum Development expressed this idea well when it said that the curriculum should reflect Taiwan’s current status, as well as the different opinions that exist in study and learning. Unfortunately, this line of thinking was later abandoned.
Professionalism and specialization were not respected during the curriculum adjustment process. A look at the debated high-school curriculum shows that 36 percent of the parts dealing with Taiwanese history were “slightly adjusted” and that, shockingly, neither researchers from Academia Sinica nor university history professors took part in the process. The whole thing was overseen by an academic who specializes in economics. On the senior-high school front, panels within the ministry responsible for overseeing subjects like history were not included in the task force for the “minor adjustments” and so their opinions were not taken into account.