Wed, Jun 10, 2015 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Student activist details curricula concerns

National Taichung First Senior High School student Liao Chung-lun’s public objections to the Ministry of Education’s adjustments to the high-school curriculum guidelines — which critics say promote a ‘China-centric’ view — at the school’s centennial ceremony earlier last month are widely regarded as the catalyst that sparked a wave of protests by high-school students. In an interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (sister paper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporter Jennifer Huang, Liao expanded on his opposition to the proposals, and asked what is behind the wave of high-school student protests

Taichung First Senior High School student Liao Chung-lun speaks in an interview in Taipei on Monday about the Ministry of Education’s curriculum adjustments.

Photo: Chang Chia-ming, Taipei Times

Liberty Times: The student club [you are a member of] at Taichung First Senior High School was the first student body to publicly criticize the planned adjustments to the high-school curriculum guidelines. What is the main issue that provoked you and what are you hoping to achieve?

Liao Chung-lun (廖崇倫): I have been following the issue since as early as 2009, when then-minister of education Cheng Jui-cheng (鄭瑞城) halted the three-year discussions over proposals to adjust the high-school curriculum.

I subsequently discovered that proposed changes to textbooks used to teach social sciences at high schools — slated to be implemented this August — had not involved any discussion with the teachers who would teach the classes, and the decision to change the curriculum guidelines was rushed past a small panel of academics that were not even experts in the subjects under discussion.

The public hearings on the changes were handled sloppily, and it is said that the Committee of Curriculum Development and the Committee of Curriculum Review did not make public their voting procedures before announcing that changes would be made. There were also rumors that the entire meeting and its conclusion were faked.

It is simply unacceptable that the matter would be determined in a manner that is so underhand.

When the media and the public joined the debate on the issue, the opinions of legislators, civic groups and government officials were widely reported. However, no one thought to ask the opinions of the students — who are set to be impacted the most. It for this reason that Taichung First Senior High School students established the Apple Tree Commune club and expressed our discontent at the ceremony.

Of course, we have to protest, especially when adults and academics are pontificating about honesty and procedural justice, while undermining these ideals themselves.

LT: The public is describing this wave of student actions as the “high-school version of the Sunflower movement.” Detractors of student movements, however, said that young people are not mature enough to enact such civic movements or are being manipulated by forces they do not understand. Do you think high-school students are capable of addressing political issues in a constructive way?

Liao: I participated in the Sunflower movement — which was mostly formed of young people who were concerned over the government’s opaque handling the cross-strait service trade agreement. However, the high-school curriculum changes directly affect high-school students, and it is an issue that high-school students are most suited to comment on. It falls on our shoulders to tell the government: “You’re doing it wrong.”

Adults who say that high-school students lack civic awareness are largely those who have grown up with educational materials that tout the excellence of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Taiwan. Students now receive at least six years of civic education before they reach the age of 18; to say that these students do not know how to be citizens is slander against the nation’s civic education system.

In addition, is it mature for officials and academics who vote behind closed doors to prescribe the curriculum changes? Is it mature of these officials to politically manipulate students? Those adults who are in positions of authority and choose not to oppose the changes, to tolerate them, are not setting a good example of being civic minded.

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