Facing a barrage of questions that cast doubts on the planned 12-year education plan, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) yesterday offered an apology to parents and students for causing “anxiety” and “qualms,” but insisted that the plan will be implemented in August next year as scheduled.
He offered his apology at the request of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Apollo Chen (陳學聖), saying he was willing to take all the blame.
Despite the vow to launch the plan as scheduled, Jiang said it would be inappropriate to put the scheme into operation before legal bases are established by the legislature, adding that the Executive Yuan would not issue administrative directives as a basis for its implementation.
In view of regulations that entry requirements for admission to schools be set one year before schools start, Jiang urged the legislature to pass the draft senior secondary education act (高級中等教育法) and an amendment to the Junior College Act (專科學校法) before the extra legislative session which ends on June 27.
Jiang left questions unanswered on whether the government would put off the plan in the event that the bills fail to clear the legislature, saying only that he hoped the two pieces of legislation would take effect on Sept. 1 at the latest.
The Ministry of Education has drafted 55 bylaws regarding the implementation of the plan, which will be promulgated in phases over the next six months, Jiang said.
Jiang was present at the plenary session to brief lawmakers on the issue yesterday, an arrangement made by the legislature amid widespread concern among students and parents over uncertainties that affect the complex scheme.
Early in the morning, groups of students and parents gathered outside the Legislative Yuan to voice their concern over the policy, but the protesters were outnumbered by police and the premier’s vehicle in which Jiang arrived at the legislature via a detour, in an apparent move to avoid the protests.
The protesters called for fairness in admission rules and the abolition of the idea to set economic qualification criteria for free tuition.
Under the plan, junior-high school students can be admitted to vocational schools next year without paying tuition fees or attend senior-high schools for free if the economic situation of their families falls below a level which has yet to be decided.
The criteria were initially set at an annual family income of NT$1.14 million (US$38,200), but Jiang said that a higher threshold will be determined by June 27.
However, the tuition-free policy will not apply to students who advance to the second or third grade of senior-high schools and vocational schools next year.
The country’s 496 senior secondary schools, 341 of which are senior-high schools and 155 vocational schools, were divided in 15 school districts around the nation.
Beginning next year, there will be at least 75 percent exam-free enrollment in each of the districts open to students who reside in the district.
The remaining 25 percent of enrollment will be available for students wishing to attend schools with a particularly strong specialty, such as mathematics and science, fine arts, sports, nursing, computer science or music through entrance examinations, which may vary from district to district.
Admission by entrance exams is not restricted to students residing in the district.