On June 27, the Senior High-School Education Act (高級中等教育法), which introduces the 12-year national education program, passed its third reading in the legislature. The law sets a tuition-exemption threshold for senior high-school students with an annual household income greater than NT$1.48 million (US$49,000), but it does not include a sunset clause, setting a date when this exemption should expire, removing tuition fees for all students. The impact will be enormous.
This kind of policy that excludes people with a higher income violates Article 159 of the Constitution, which states that “all citizens shall have equal opportunity to receive an education.” It will also create confrontation between students from different economic backgrounds.
Some teachers’ organizations believe the act fails to address the public aspects of private schools and says that it favors private schools. Under the system, which combines junior and senior-high school into one six-year segment, many private junior-high school graduates will go directly onto the senior-high sections of their schools, giving private schools a big advantage. As a result, private schools are likely to prosper, while public schools decline.
Rewarding private schools is a violation of Article 167 of the Constitution, which states that the government must encourage or subsidize private educational enterprises that have a “good record.”
Basically, Taiwan’s educational system copies the Weimar constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic between 1919 and 1933.
However, Article 162 of Taiwan’s Constitution merely states that “all public and private educational and cultural institutions in the country shall, in accordance with the law, be subject to state supervision.”
Unlike our Constitution, the Weimar constitution included complete and detailed regulations on the establishment and supervision of private schools.
Article 147 of the Weimar constitution states: “Private schools in lieu of public schools require state approval and are subject to state laws. Approval has to be granted, if the private schools do meet the standards of public schools in their educational goals as well as in their installations and in the qualification of their staff, and if they do not promote any differentiated treatment of children according to the wealth of their parents. Approval has to be withheld if the financial security of the teaching staff is insufficiently guaranteed.”
The regulations on education in the Weimar constitution were included in their entirety in Article 7 of the 1949 Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany and they were also adopted by all federal states after the unification of East and West Germany in 1990.
What this means is that Germany’s basic national policy on education has remained consistent over the past century.
In contrast, Taiwan’s educational system and policies have over the past 20 years gradually departed from the basic national policy of education as stipulated in the Constitution.
Today, many private schools continuously expand, but the standards of their facilities and teachers are inferior to those of public schools, and the financial security of their teachers is insufficiently guaranteed.
Private schools often demand that teachers recruit new students, or inflate the number of school-business cooperative projects for school evaluations to demand more educational resources from the government.
Private universities often hire retired public university professors or retired government officials to be their “educational guardians” or “educational mercenaries” to meet the school evaluation threshold requirements. By doing so, they fail to accomplish their mission of cultivating young academics.
Furthermore, board members of certain private universities give themselves certain benefits.
They ignore the rights of students, the faculty and their schools, and offer inappropriately large salaries and benefits to school presidents. For example, several private university presidents’ salaries are twice or even triple the salaries of public university presidents. The result is that teacher salaries at private universities are much lower than at public schools.
For many years, the Ministry of Education has failed to supervise private institutions in accordance with Article 162 of the Constitution.
As a result, Taiwanese education is deteriorating as the number of underperforming private schools continue to grow.
Unfortunately, the legislature did not focus on the public aspects of private schools when reviewing the act, which departs from the basic national policy of education as laid down in the Constitution.
Opposition parties should follow Article 5 of the Constitutional Interpretation Procedure Act (司法院大法官審理案件法) and gather the support of one-third of all legislators, which is the number required to file for a constitutional interpretation. They should clarify whether the act regarding the 12-year national education program violates the Constitution.
Lin Terng-yaw is a retired professor of law who taught at Tunghai University.
Translated by Eddy Chang