On Aug. 4, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) called a meeting between government and opposition lawmakers to discuss the opaque adjustment of the high-school curriculum guidelines that has been a source of so much turmoil over the past year.
Two agreements were reached in principle. From the standpoint of the general public, the compromise reached during the talks must be clearly explained and there must be no ambiguity.
When it comes to the first volume of textbooks that is to be used when the new school term starts in September, teachers must, at the very least, be allowed to choose the books they wish to teach from.
As far as the second and following volumes of the books are concerned, the ongoing review process should be halted immediately.
As to Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa (吳思華), there is no reason for him to continue to cling to his post.
These three suggestions offer an approach to the current stalemate and it is to be hoped that all quarters of society might pool their ideas and urge the government and the opposition parties to work together to give students the right to an education without a political agenda.
The agreement reached by the legislative party caucuses suggests that the Ministry of Education, in accordance with Article 43 of the Senior High School Education Act (高級中等教育法), should immediately set up a committee to review the curriculum guidelines and allow each school to freely select the textbooks it wants to use for the coming school year.
Student protesters might feel that this is a far cry from the “temporary suspension of the curriculum changes” that they had asked for.
The point of departure for the Democratic Progressive Party legislative party caucus was that the new textbooks should be banned altogether, but the party clearly failed to gain support for that view and the word “again” in the Taiwan Solidarity Union’s suggestion that textbooks should be selected was removed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus.
In view of these developments, it is clear that the opposition parties cannot remain passive and must take action in order to reach their shared goal of suspending the curriculum changes.
The ministry has already admitted that it must conduct its affairs in accordance with the law.
Article 43 of the Senior High School Education Act states that “the central competent authority shall establish a curriculum council to examine senior-high schools’ curricular guidelines.”
It is clear that “a curriculum council to examine senior-high schools’ curricular guidelines” had not been established prior to the implementation of the curriculum guidelines on Aug. 1, and that means that the so-called “minor adjustments” are being changed arbitrarily and in violation of the law.
Since this is the case, why should these curriculum guidelines be followed and why should teachers be made to choose textbooks that have been compiled based on an illegal set of curriculum guidelines?
Strictly speaking, the new textbooks based on these guidelines should be abandoned and each school should use their old textbooks based on the 2012 curriculum guidelines.
Furthermore, the agreement reached by the ruling and opposition parties’ legislative caucuses are the product of compromise, which means that the parties have had to make various political concessions.
Although the guidelines have been adjusted in clear violation of the law, they might be treated as a fait accompli and partially accepted, thus resulting in a decision to allow schools to freely select the textbooks they want to use for this year. If that is the road that is chosen, it needs to be accompanied by a number of supplementary measures in order to minimize the negative consequences.
The first action to be taken regards the volumes still being prepared.
According to the current plan, 80 percent of senior-high school teachers would have selected teaching materials, illegally devised, by as early as May.
The plan as it stands is for the first volumes of textbooks — for history, civics and Chinese — to be used to teach first-year senior-high school students as soon as they return for the new school term in September and teachers in senior-high schools throughout the country to have completed their selection of the newly printed official ministry textbooks by May.
The ministry should make a new announcement, giving all the teachers involved the chance to make a new selection of the textbooks from which they are going to teach their students. It should also allow students some input into the matter by giving them the opportunity to make suggestions to their teachers as to which materials they would like to use.
Any additional costs accrued from changing textbooks at this point should be absorbed by the ministry.
However, this does not go far enough. More needs to be done.
The writing of the second volume of textbooks — which is set to be used from the next school term starting in February next year — and for all the subsequent volumes that are set to be used over the three years of senior-high school, has already been completed. Publishers have already started editing them. They have even started sending them to the National Academy for Educational Research for review.
The second action that should be taken is that the opposition party insists that the ministry make a clear announcement that, before the results of the review committee’s deliberations are announced, the entire editing and review process for the second volume and subsequent volumes is to be put on hold until the curriculum review is completed. The editing of the new textbooks should only continue once this happens, so that they can be completed in line with the conclusions of that review.
During this process, the publishers have been messed about. Resources and money have been wasted as they have been asked to rewrite the official textbooks after only three years, when the original understanding was that they were licensed to produce the 2012 curriculum textbooks for six years.
The blame for this is to be placed entirely at the feet of the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the KMT for their abuses of power and violations of the law.
The final point concerns Wu’s personal style and the dubious choices he has made.
This whole sorry process did not start within Wu’s tenure at the ministry, but he has been more than happy to accept the baton and to push the changes through. As this has been going on, there has been no shortage of voices telling him of the best way to address this situation to get a good result, but he has insisted on doing what Ma would have him do.
He has engaged with the students on several occasions, but even then there has been little in the way of communication. He has even resorted to threatening students with legal action.
Wu is the most senior official in the country responsible for the education brief and yet he has failed to connect with the young Taiwanese who are the recipients of this education. He likes to think of himself as an intellectual. We see little evidence of his being qualified for that distinction.
After student activist Dai Lin (林冠華) committed suicide reportedly in protest against the ministry’s curriculum changes, there is nothing the state can do to adequately make up for the remorse and pain that has been felt.
Worse still, the shameless powers that be are doing nothing. The lessons learned from this whole affair are likely to make an indelible mark on the history of the normalization of education in this nation and hopefully will stay with each and every person in Taiwan for a very long time.
Translated by Perry Svensson and Paul Cooper
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