Sun, Sep 28, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Language debate won't go away, despite reforms

CULTURE CLASH The head of the Examination Yuan says that conflict over civil service exams has resulted in changes that reflect the needs of a modern society

By Fiona Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The crisis over the use of the Hoklo language in national examinations has been taken as an opportunity to upgrade the criteria for designing questions used in those exams, according to Examination Yuan President Yao Chia-wen (姚嘉文).

Last week, candidates sitting three national examinations -- the Rank Promotion Examination for the Harbor Business Employees, the Special Examination for Police Officers -- were confronted with test questions in Hoklo, commonly known as Taiwanese. Although the questions were written in traditional Chinese characters, they could be understood only by those who were fluent in Taiwanese.

Now, following the week-long public debate,Yao announced on Friday that the controversial questions would not count toward the final score of the candidates.

One day before the announcement, the examination authorities revealed that questions on future national examinations would not reflect the examiners' political ideologies or touch on controversial areas such as racial or sexual discrimination.

It was also decided that, contrary to past practice, the examiners must not test candidates on the intricacies of classical Chinese or test their knowledge of ancient Chinese writings that are irrelevant to a person's ability to function in a modern civil service .

Yao acknowledged that the use of Taiwanese in the national examinations had generated a dispute among Examination Yuan members.

"But the debate did help us to reach the consensus on Thursday. This consensus was reform-oriented and signaled the Examination Yuan's progress in updating the testing of a person's language skills in the national examination," Yao said.

He expressed hope that the issue would not be misconstrued.

"By way of concluding the criteria for designing questions, the examination authority settled a long-standing controversy over the use of ancient Chinese writings or classical Chinese literature in present national examinations, Yao said.

This is a breakthrough in the reforms of the country's civil service examination system," Yao said.

In making the changes, the Examination Yuan has decided that in the 21st century it is unnecessary to test candidates on their ability to understand and explain ancient Chinese writings which reflected outdated political thinking and lack a sense of democracy, Yao said.

But for some pan-blue legislators, certain examiners had gone too far to be considered competent in the sacred task of supervising examinations. And it was not only the use of Taiwanese that they objected to.

Chin Huei-chu (秦慧珠) of the People First Party (PFP) lashed out at Examination Yuan member Chang Cheng-shuh (張正修) last Thursday for letting Taiwan-centered questions dominate a test of national history and geography in this year's level-four civil service examination.

"The Examination Yuan should apologize for such misconduct that was obviously a result of Chang's ideological bias," the PFP lawmaker said.

On Friday, she further petitioned for a Control Yuan investigation toward the Examination Yuan staff who she charged may have violated the Constitution.

"These examination questions conflicted with the spirit of the ROC Constitution which safeguards the individual's right to fair competition in the national examinations," Chin said.

Some speakers of Hakka -- the second most prominent dialect in Taiwan, spoken by one-fifth of the population -- also disputed the use of Taiwanese in the examinations.

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