During an initial review on May 5, the legislature’s Education and Culture Committee passed the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) draft amendments to the Senior High School Education Act (高級中等教育法) and the Primary and Junior High School Act (國民教育法).
The amendments would increase the number of members of the public on the Curriculum Guideline Review Committee to three-quarters of the total seats and allow the legislature to form a review team to approve the nomination of committee members.
The task of nominating and the employing the committee members would be shifted from the Ministry of Education to the Executive Yuan. Therefore, the premier would directly control the establishment of the committee and the ministry would only have the task of proposing curriculum guidelines.
Since the ministry is going to be demoted to the position of a policy proposer, this would cause a new problem, as those in power might replace educational professionalism with political ambitions. As a result, the fight for the right to have a say in policymaking would be repeated whenever the person who makes the decisions is changed.
The principle of educational neutrality implies that the state should take an equal and transparent approach to cultural affairs, such as different beliefs and worldviews at school, to allow students to be responsible for their own beliefs and views as part of their self-development and self-determination.
In the administration of educational affairs, the two types of state neutrality are reflected in neutrality and keeping a distance when it comes to beliefs and worldviews and in the duty to protect their free development.
The former means that the state must not support only one particular belief or worldview when it comes to educational planning and curriculum. For example, if education only included Confucian teachings, it would violate the principle of educational neutrality.
If the state identifies with Confucianism alone, making it the ideological core of its educational plans and teaching materials, it could be violating educational neutrality.
The latter means that the state should protect students’ freedom to develop their own beliefs and worldviews when it comes educational planning and curriculum. For example, teachers should understand and reflect the educational neutrality principle in their classes, and give students the chance to raise questions about different faiths and views to ensure that students are free to develop their own views.
When teachers communicate with students, they should never take a position of intellectual superiority or power and push their own beliefs and worldviews. Instead, they should introduce important representative trends of thought to students and allow them to freely develop and decide on their own beliefs and views.
Although the state has an obligation to remain ideologically neutral when proposing educational plans and curriculum, it is questionable if it can truly guarantee ideological neutrality in education.
Looking at modern world history, almost every nation tried to a certain extent to use education as a propaganda tool to promote the ideology of specific political or spiritual thought over the past hundred years; perhaps the most obvious examples being Nazi Germany and East Germany.
Establishing the principle of educational neutrality in a diverse and multicultural society for the sake of students’ self-realization is a declaratory statement in educational legislation, it would only alert the state to pay attention to the issue. If the state does not fulfill its obligation to follow this principle, how will students receive its protection?
More importantly, whether in law or in practice, the public should ensure that various currents of spiritual thought can flow into educational affairs through a variety of channels, forming a flow of ideas that would help students freely develop their character.
So, under the protection of the principle of educational neutrality, people should pay particular attention to preventing individual groups, beliefs or worldviews from having an excessive effect on schools.
Transferring the nomination and employment of the committee members to the Executive Yuan was an example of using political power to resolve the matter. This is only a temporary solution. To build a healthy educational environment in the long term, it is more important to build open and transparent curriculum guideline review procedures.
The nation’s leaders should seize this opportunity to free curriculum guidelines from the bog of political ideology. On the premise of returning to human-centered curriculum guidelines based on the principle of educational neutrality, all parties should exchange opinions to seek the greatest possible consensus on educational content.
Hsu Yue-dian is a professor of law at National Cheng Kung University.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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