INTERVIEW: Hsinchu students organize opposition to changes

Hsinchu National Senior High School had the most students — more than 700 — sign a petition opposing the Ministry of Education’s planned adjustments to high-school curricula and provides the best example and implementation of civics education for high-school students, Hsinchu High School Anti-Curriculum Changes organization spokesperson Mu Yu-feng and member Chang Wen-jung said in an interview with Liberty Times (the sister newspaper of the Taipei Times) reporter Jennifer Huang

Translated by Jake Chung, staff writer

Sun, Jun 14, 2015 - Page 3

Liberty Times: Hsinchu High School has the most students who signed a petition against the curriculum changes. Why do the students oppose the Ministry of Education’s plan?

Students: High-school students must study many different materials and it is difficult to persuade everyone to sign the petition against the changes. A group of students in the school are working together and finding all relevant information on the matter and have held workshops for open debates.

We have invited teachers and university professors to the workshops for discussion as well. The main discontent is focused on the procedure used to determine the curriculum and how the changes are not ideal and seek to use education as a tool to force ideologies upon people that are supported by a minority.

The school’s attitude toward this matter greatly increased our efforts in persuading so many students to sign the petition. In contrast with other schools, where teachers and parents are telling students to focus on their studies and help increase the number of students who get accepted to top universities, Hsinchu High School officials are allowing students to pass out fliers on the matter at the school gates, as well as allowing open debates on the matter.

With more people coming together and understanding the issue, there will be more people signing the petition opposing the changes.

LT: Hsinchu Senior High School has already decided to continue using older versions of the history and civic education textbooks. Are students not afraid that they will be out of touch with materials presented in examinations?

Students: From what we understand, the teachers hope that the textbooks would refrain from slanted historical views, but the ministry’s recent official notice demanding that schools use the new textbooks has put pressure on the school’s administrators.

However, civic education teachers had already decided to use the older textbooks, and the history teachers made the same decision. They are waiting for the ministry to officially repeal its former notice under public pressure before making their choices official.

As for the examinations, according to our research, examinations usually avoid controversial content, as it would only cause more problems that the College Entrance Examination Center would want to avoid.

Primarily, students are opposing political forces intervening in their education. The prime target of our opposition is the Ministry of Education, which we feel should adhere to established procedures for deciding curricula.

LT: Participants in the meeting that passed the controversial changes said that textbooks were meant to serve political goals, adding that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) also amended the curriculum when it was in power from 2000 to 2008. Why are high-school students so strongly opposing the changes made now?

Students: Prior to the lifting of Martial Law, all senior-high schools had only one version of textbooks — the one compiled and published by the National Institute for Compilation and Translation — which is evidently an educational tool used by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

Following the permits issued to private companies to publish textbooks, the first curriculum was devised in 1999, with a temporary curriculum adopted by the DPP in 2006, followed by their proposal for a new curriculum in 2009.

Since the KMT returned to power, it threw out the DPP’s 2009 proposal and instead nominated its own 2012 curriculum, which is the controversial “minor adjustments” to high-school curricula that — despite its controversy — the ministry is adamant about implementing by August.

I made some effort to understand the processes in each of the aforementioned periods and found that the changes made under the DPP government were comparatively law-abiding, allowing for teachers to comment on the changes, while sending the proposals through an assembled curriculum committee, the Committee of Curriculum Development and the Committee of Curriculum Review.

Academics participating in the meetings at the time were all authorities in their respective fields and made the changes keeping the students in mind. The public hearings were also more structured.

However, this time, the curriculum changes have often been called a “black-box” operation that was manipulated by a minority of academics who had no expertise in the subjects being modified. Most of the teachers who conduct the teaching have been removed from the process, with some complaining of receiving the notice to attend the public hearings after the hearings have concluded.

Even students in their minors know that political intervention [in education] is wrong, and that is why we oppose these changes.

Translated by Jake Chung, staff writer