“Ill-prepared and ill-conceived” is probably the best way to sum up the 12-year education program that the government is rushing to put it into effect by August next year. President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) has said that the Ministry of Education is “fully prepared” to carry out the program, which aims to eliminate entrance exams, provide more options for school admission and bridge the education quality gap between the top-tier high schools and the rest
However, the government’s vacillatory decisionmaking demonstrates that it is anything but “fully prepared” to implement the program and the ones who will bear the brunt of its hastily drafted policy will be the students who will be used as the program’s guinea pigs next year.
The objective of the new school system is to give all students equal opportunities to receive an education. However, the funding strategy for and design of the new system are riddled with problems.
During his presidential campaign, Ma pledged that starting next year students would not have to pay tuition for senior-high schools. Yet, as the date of the education program’s implementation draws closer, the government has suddenly found it necessary to add a caveat that excludes students from “wealthy” families from being eligible for tuition support.
Initially, the caveat applied to students from families with an annual income of NT$1.14 million (US$38,200) and above.
However, on Tuesday, the ministry revised the threshold to an annual income of NT$1.48 million. According to the ministry, while the threshold would exclude 14.1 percent of the students who will enter high schools or vocational schools next year from enjoying free tuition, it would save the government NT$13.7 billion over the first five years of the program.
However, aside from the fact that increasing revenue is the solution to the government’s fiscal problems, not saving money, students are being labeled as coming from “wealthy” and “not wealthy” families just to save the government NT$2.74 billion a year. Also, since when did an annual income of NT$1.48 million stop being considered middle-class and become the kind of money earned by the “wealthy”?
Making the government’s economic qualification criteria even more unjust are the educational subsidies that will be given to the children of military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers, regardless of income threshold.
The program’s exam-free admissions system also misses the mark. Under the 12-year program, entrance exams would account for 7.94 percent of schools with “special programs” next year.
What subjects will those in “special programs” be tested on? How will they be tested and what is the quota? All these questions remain unanswered, causing more anxiety and qualms among students, teachers, school principals and parents.
Then there is the question of the legal bases for the new program: the draft senior secondary education act (高級中等教育法) and an amendment to the Junior College Act (專科學校法), which have yet to clear the legislature.
In the past, whenever an education policy reform was introduced, the ministry would first conduct a trial of the proposal and reach a public consensus that paved the way for across-the-board implementation of the new policy.
By contrast, the 12-year education program has been drafted in great haste.
Some people have speculated that the government is rushing the implementation of the new curriculum just to fulfill Ma’s campaign promise.
However, for the sake of students’ future, many people would — for once — be glad to see the president bounce his campaign check.