Tue, Jul 13, 2004 - Page 2 News List

A natural approach to learning

Historian Tu Cheng-sheng became the minister of education in May, but he has already faced criticism from lawmakers who oppose his new curriculum ideas. Taipei Times staff writer Jewel Huang interviewed Tu about his ministry's agenda for change

By Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng has proposed a new approach to curriculum in many school subjects.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: In your decade of advocating reforms in historical education, your "concentric circle theory" -- which encourages students to learn the nation's history from the things most familiar to them -- has sparked controversy. As the nation's top educational official, how are you reforming historical education and rewriting history textbooks to represent local-oriented and diverse historical perspectives?

Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝): I've been thinking that it is the most natural thing for a person to know about the past of the land where he or she lives. In fact, in most countries no controversy would arise from educating children about the country's land, culture and history. That we face such a dispute in Taiwan reveals how unusual a country Taiwan is.

Now that I'm minister of education, I will carry out policies that are considered the most natural and will try to normalize our educational system. I know I'm doing something that can't be too natural in pedagogy, but I don't care about controversies. Our educational system needs to teach our children and teenagers to recognize the history and culture of their land.

That is to say, "elements of Taiwan" play an important part in the development of children's personality and knowledge. These can be conveyed through coursework in the humanities and social sciences, including the subjects of art, language, literature, history, geography and civics. All of these subjects will contain elements of Taiwan.

We will write a new curriculum that clearly indicates how the local elements will be compiled into the nine-year educational program. The ministry will work out the practical details of this curriculum soon.

TT: When will this new course outline be implemented? Former minister of education Huang Jong-tsun (黃榮村) has been taking a noncommittal attitude about this issue, and some pan-blue legislators have strongly reacted against such changes. Do you have a definite timeline for making a new history curriculum?

Tu: I hope that we can come up with the new course outline before December. The ministry has organized a special committee to develop this curriculum, and I will also urge the Department of Secondary Education to speed up the project's components for history, geography, literature and language classes that will be affected by the reforms.

But I would like to stress that this does not mean we only need to know about Taiwan. Simultaneously, we have to educate our students about China, Asia and the whole world with new and more objective perspectives.

TT: How do you react to the term de-Sinicization (去中國化)? What kind of mindset and theoretical implications do you think this term conveys? If this controversy hinders the course reform, what would you do to dispel some people's doubts about so-called localization?

Tu: For our new educational plans, there is no focus on de-Sinicization. What we plan is to enable our students to re-know China and the places where they are living. In fact, de-Sinicization is a political term created by people who were afraid that the Chinese parts of the curriculum would be reduced as the Taiwan elements increased in education.

Diverse approaches

As a matter of fact, China is a country with complicated ethnic groups, diverse geographical features and extensive territory. Each place in China is currently looking for its own characteristics.

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