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.
Photo: Chang Chia-ming, Taipei Times
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.
Education about what citizenship means, and how civic values can be upheld should start at a young age; the value of such education should not be impugned by adults who describe young social activists as immature. It is unfair. We will not be deterred from participating in public events by such commentary.
LT: Students from more than 200 schools have so far signed a petition to protest the changes made to the curriculum guidelines. What exactly are the demands and goals of the student body?
Liao: The student clubs of the schools that have signed the petition plan to hold inter-school talks on the issue. Currently the consensus is for the Ministry of Education to drop the controversial changes and reinstate the debates over what, if any, adjustments should be made, in accordance with procedure.
For my own part, the main issue that I want to highlight is the top-down manner in which curricula are dicated and enacted.
In the past, Taiwanese education has always employed a regimental curriculum that dictates what students learn and adults in positions of political authority have always decided the content.
This has meant that the education system has become a tool of the government.
More advanced approaches used abroad seek consensus on curricula decisions; for example by choosing a topic for a semester, such as medieval history, and having the students gather their own information before beginning a discussion on the subject.
I hope that in the future Taiwan is able to adopt this more open model of education, which allows teachers and students to have more space to interact and decreases the chance of education being used to manipulate.
It is not important if student opposition to the curriculum changes forces the ministry to change its mind, what matters is that our opposition has caused many senior high-school students to begin to pay attention to their education system.
Even some junior high-school students have joined the debate and are reflecting on the curricula, and this is the best kind of learning experience.
The potential for an educational revolution will gather momentum, and it is not something that the minister of education or anyone else can repress.
Translated by Jake Chung, Staff Writer
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