Braving the scorching sun, representatives of several of civil groups called for education reform on a wide range of issues, including attention to special education and a 12-year compulsory education system, on the sidelines of the National Education Conference in Taipei yesterday.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) delivered speeches at the conference, which was hosted by the Ministry of Education, with the aim of determining the direction of the nation’s education for the next 10 years.
The two-day conference, which was the first of its kind in 16 years, planned to discuss subjects including the overall education system, higher education, special education, faculty training, internationalized campuses and education and lifelong learning.
However, across the street from the National Central Library, where the conference was being held, civil groups demonstrated to highlight issues that they felt deserved more attention at the conference.
One of the groups’ appeals is for the government to set a clear-cut timetable to implement a compulsory 12-year national education system.
The current compulsory education system, which has been in place since 1968, requires six years of elementary school and three years of junior high school.
“We demand a timetable for implementation because the discussion of a 12-year compulsory education has been going on for more than a decade, but nothing has been done,” chairman of the National Alliance of Parents Organization Hsieh Kuo-ching (謝國清) said.
“A 12-year national education system can help many students from families that are unable to afford after-school classes from private tutors or cram schools,” he added.
A mother surnamed Chen, who is a junior high school teacher by profession, said “a three-year extension to their education can make a difference to a lot of students” since the current high school enrolment system puts too much pressure on students.
“My son is in college now and he was lucky to get admitted to a university, but some of his childhood classmates who are as intelligent as him went astray after graduating from junior high school,” she said.
Citing Taiwan’s lacks of a preschool education policy, the groups also appealed for the government to enact a bill on childhood education and childcare.
Taiwan needs a policy that integrates education and social welfare resources to tackle the issue of working parents not having enough money for childcare and preschool education, especially single-parent families, the demonstrators said.
The absence of such a law was the main reason for the country’s low fertility rate, which sunk to a record low of 0.94 percent, they said.
“Without the law, we refuse to have babies,” the demonstrators shouted.
Kuo Hsin-mei (郭馨美), president of the Association for the Learning Disability in Taiwan, also criticized the government for not addressing special education needs, which she said was obvious because there is not a single agency under the Ministry of Education to handle special education issues.
“Only 4.5 percent of the educational budget is used on special education. Among that, 60 percent is used for tuition subsidies, and a larger portion is used for teachers’ wages. Only a trivial amount of the budget is left for the actual needs of children in the educational system,” said Liu yung-nin (劉永寧), executive director of the association.