The Ministry of Education (MOE) should waive its right to appeal the Taipei High Administrative Court ruling on Thursday last week, after the ruling threw into doubt the legitimacy of the ministry’s revisions to the high-school curriculum for Chinese language and social science. The ministry should drop its plan for new textbooks to be introduced in August and go back to the drawing board.
The Taiwan Association of Human Rights filed suit a year ago to demand that the ministry observe Article 9 of the Freedom of Government Information Act (政府資訊公開法) and make public all information about the meetings in which the new curriculum guidelines were decided upon.
The association, along with many other groups, said the new China-centered and Han-centered historical perspective of the guidelines was an attempt to stifle the development of Taiwanese identity.
The ministry has tried to downplay the seriousness of the ruling. In its initial response, it said that the ruling “held no bearing” on its schedule that the textbooks for this year’s summer semester should conform to the new curriculum guidelines. It insisted that the information about the meeting discussions, which it said was “for internal use or preparatory work prior to decisionmaking,” should be restricted from the public — one of the exceptions to Article 9 allowed under Article 18 of the act.
The ministry’s stance was nothing but sophistry. Although the lawsuit ruling was not directly about the actual adjustments made to the guidelines, but about the procedure by which the revisions were made, without due process as their basis, the legitimacy of the new curriculum guidelines is untenable.
The nature of the information can in no way justify the ministry’s opaque review process.
There have been leaks that revealed that last year’s review had been conducted in an unorthodox manner, with the curriculum proposals coming from an ad hoc committee, as opposed the usual practice of consulting high-school teachers before such a review commences.
The 10 members of the ad hoc committee are known for their pro-unification stance and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) connections. None was a historian with knowledge of Taiwan’s history.
The latest leaks said the committee proposed the guideline changes on Nov. 23, 2013 — when high-school teachers were still being consulted as to whether it was necessary to conduct a review — and set a closing date for the consultations of Dec. 31.
In just two weeks’ time, the committee rammed the proposal through four more steps to complete the review procedure, which critics later found to be murky, shambolic and non-inclusive to other opinions. The proposed changes sparked a widespread outcry at the time, but the ministry went ahead and promulgated the new guidelines on Feb. 10 last year.
Those adjustments were simply the latest in a series of attempts made by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration since May 2008 to change textbooks from a Taiwan-oriented perspective to a China-oriented perspective. Several previous attempts — including a proposal to increase the portion of ancient Chinese in Chinese language textbooks, to merge Taiwanese and Chinese history textbooks and to refer to the nation as the “Republic of China” instead of “Taiwan” and to China as “the mainland” — were all called off because of intense public opposition.
Whether or not the ministry appeals the ruling, the likelihood of it complying with the ruling is low. The Ma administration has been drafting general curriculum guidelines for the entire 12-year system to replace the ones currently in use. If the administration made public how it handled the changes to the high-school Chinese language and social science guidelines, it would only promote a greater backlash against its plan to overhaul the entire system.
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