Lawmakers yesterday expressed concern that in promoting English and native language education the Ministry of Education was causing students' Mandarin abilities to deteriorate.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) yesterday said during an Education Committee question session at the Legislative Yuan that Mandarin classes in schools had been drastically cut after the start of education reforms in 2001.
Seventy-two to 96 hours of elementary school Mandarin class time had been cut, Hung said.
Forty-five hours had been cut in junior high and 48 in high school, she added.
Compared to other Asian countries, Taiwan set aside fewer hours for Mandarin classes, Hung said.
Taiwan offered 80 to 133 hours of Mandarin, while China had 172 to 271 hours, and Singapore offered 80 to 240 hours, she said.
The reading ability of elementary school students was lower than the international standard and the length of articles that they read was shorter too, she said.
She did not cite any sources for this information.
KMT Legislator Diane Lee (李慶安) added that in a recent survey conducted by Taipei City's Education Department, 98.6 percent of the 355 teachers polled said that they felt their students' Mandarin abilities had declined compared with students of a few years ago.
Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) said he felt that the recent drop in students' Mandarin abilities was largely because of multiple choice exam questions and computerized testing methods.
"The reasons behind the drop are complicated," Tu said. "But the education ministry is currently reevaluating its policies regarding computerized testing and multiple choice questions."
Multiple choice questions curb students' creativity and imagination, he said.
Tu gave a report on the language abilities of students and other education policies during the session. However, English and mother-tongue education policies were not the target of legislators' fire.
Tu said that the media's frequent use of Mandarin homonyms confused students, and might be another cause of the decline in Mandarin ability.