Carefully plan educational reform

By the Liberty Times editorial  / 

Sun, Jul 27, 2003 - Page 8

Recently, the topic of educational reform has come to the fore in the media, public debates and within the political and academic circles. From the contents of textbooks, to the manner of school admission, to the number of students per class, to the number of schools at various levels, to the teaching methods, they have all been topics of debates for over 10 years. They have even gotten the pan-blue and pan-green to point their fingers at each other.

On the one hand there is the group of experts and scholars who had pushed for the reforms and on the other hand there are those who either oppose the reforms and object to the outcomes of the reforms. They have become no different than feuding mobs portrayed on the TV series Taiwan Thunderbolt Fire (台灣霹靂火). The manner in which the two sides call each other names and accused each other is no more civilized than the conduct of the show's antagonist hero Liu Wen-tzong (劉文聰).

Some political parties and pro-unification media seized the opportunity to accuse President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of being "clueless" about how to run this country and accuse the educational reforms of being "a disastrous failure."

Some cast all of the blame on Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲), the Academic Sinica president, attacking him in a manner no less ruthless than Liu Wen-tzong's famous line, "I'll give you a barrel of gasoline and a match stick." Even more worrisome is that some anti-reform talks are used to make pro-unification groups' attack of the government "politically correct."

They have also been used to encourage and incite anti-social or anti-reform trends, with the potential of turning into class struggles.

With respect to this potential development, a call is hereby made on the government to in no event repeat the mistake last year, which eventually led to a major demonstration by the farmers' and fishermen's cooperatives, by underestimating the seriousness of the matter.

In addition to making sure that the national educational reform conference being convened in September does not turn into a reform rubber stamp without considered conclusions is drawn and only slogans are chanted, they should first convene meetings among principals of schools at different levels and experts of different academic subjects in one to two months before the reform conference. The purpose would be to review the reform plans of the schools of various levels.

First, find out where the problems are and then appoint experts with professional and practical experience to cooperate and think about solutions to problems. Next, have the relevant ministries or departments set up targets for each phase of the plan, as well as draw up budgets and implement regulations. This is the way to pragmatically face up to problems.

During KMT rule, the educational reform committee headed by Lee drafted a white paper on educational reforms after more than two years of hard work. The collective wisdom underlying the white paper could be characterized as the momentum of the reforms. Unfortunately, the Executive Yuan and the relevant educational departments did not give serious consideration to the proposals made in the white paper.

After the release of the white paper, the committee was immediately dissolved. The bureaucratic officials of the Ministry of Education who suffer from administrative idleness simply tossed the white paper into files at the bottom of their file cabinets. Some hastily accepted the proposals without giving any practical consideration to individual cases.

For example, from the integrated nine-year curriculum, to the the lack of continuity between senior-high and university education, to the disparity in the resources allocated to private and public schools, to the lack of regulations on increases in school tuitions, to more diversity in school admissions, they all have problems, some from the very beginning of their implementation.

It is not the intention here to deny the earnest efforts of the educational-reform committee spearheaded by Lee. The problems with implementation from within the government and the divergent views about reforms outside the government are the source of troubles. If the ministry had a department solely responsible for experimentation, implementation and studies in educational reforms, and focus on training school teachers and revising teaching materials, surely the problems with educational reforms wouldn't be as bad as it is today.

Strictly speaking, while it is neither fair nor unnecessary to have Lee or the minister of education shoulder all the blame, both the premier and the ministry should solemnly demonstrate the determination and courage to face up to the problems at hand.

They cannot continue to give the impression of being unable to either explain things or take responsibility, as well as responding in haste only when problems hit them point blank.

For example, the Executive Yuan responded to the phenomenon in which teachers are unable to retire immediately by making a special budget of NT$20 billion to NT$30 billion. Facing rising school tuition, it immediately lowered the interest rates on student loans, and increased the amount of educational stipends for students from low-income families.

While the government's promptness should be recognized, one cannot help but ask why hasn't the ministry communicated the seriousness of the problems to the government over the past 10 years? Alternatively, if it did, what took the Executive Yuan this long to act on it?

Ironically, while some teachers are begging for retirement, a long lines of people are waiting to take over their jobs. Some even have to pay huge "red envelops" to local government officials in order to get positions as substitute teachers. Such structural problems bog down the educational system as well.

Despite the excessive number of teachers, the ministry is recruiting thousands of foreign English-language teachers in the name of "raising competitiveness." How can such conduct not incite popular resentment? No wonder people think that the officials of the ministry are detached from reality. All these indicate the bureaucratic and irresponsible culture of the officials, which is also the reason that the reforms have been hard to implement. This is something worthy of the attention of high-ranking government officials.

The various educational reform groups must demonstrate professionalism, and not become subjects of manipulation by the parties, so as to complicate reform problems. This is something that the people here would rather not see.