The National Academy for Educational Research (NAER) on Saturday warned publishers against using textbooks that it has not explicitly approved, prompting criticism from opposition lawmakers, who said the academy’s approach was reminiscent of crackdowns on freedom of expression during the White Terror era.
The academy said that using textbooks it has not sanctioned would be in defiance of the Regulations on the Review and Approval of Senior-High School Textbooks (高級中等學校教科用書審定辦法).
The issue stems from controversy sparked by the Ministry of Education in January last year which made “minor adjustments” to the high-school curriculum guidelines for history, civic and social studies, Chinese and geography.
The adjustments resulted in protests by civic groups, high-school teachers and academics, who called the changes an attempt by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to “de-Taiwanize and Sinicize” the nation’s education system.
The Taiwan Association for Human Rights challenged the changes in court. Although the Taipei High Administrative Court in February ruled against the ministry’s decision to implement the adjustments, the ministry went ahead with them.
The NAER on Saturday showed six major publishers’ textbooks that had been revised according to the latest guidelines, with NAER director Yang Kuo-yang (楊國揚) saying that textbook publishers would be going against regulations if they provided high-school teachers with previous versions of the textbooks.
Yang said Article 16 of the regulations stipulates that textbook providers cannot provide schools with unapproved books that have not passed academy inspections.
In response, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislators Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) and Ho Hsin-chun (何欣純) said the NAER’s announcement was tantamount to “a threat on book providers to revoke their permits for unilaterally changing the content of approved textbooks.”
Textbooks published prior to the curriculum changes are still valid and the ministry should respect the rights of students to choose their own textbooks, Chen said, adding that threatening to revoke providers’ permits after a consensus by the majority has been reached were tactics used in the White Terror era.
“It is total repression of free speech,” Chen said. “Has the academy become a dictatorship that controls what people should and should not think?”
Chen added that the curriculum adjustments had confirmed people’s worst fears, as some publishers had deleted passages detailing the White Terror era and the martyrdom of freedom advocate Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕).
“The adjustments and the ultimate goal of the Ministry of Education is to slowly establish textbooks that adhere to the historical views of the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” Chen said.
KMT Legislator Apollo Chen (陳學聖) said that further discussions over the issue should be held, adding that priority should be placed on passages that civic groups felt were controversial and should not be included in national examinations.
In response to lawmakers’ remarks that previous versions of textbooks are still valid, Yang cited Article 23 of the same regulation, which stipulates that applications for permit extensions for modified textbooks that are approved must follow the original permit until its date of expiration and the NAER would not issue another permit. However, as the NAER has clearly stated that all providers should use the new versions of textbooks, permits can be revoked, depending on the severity of the providers’ infraction of the law.
Taiwan Association of Human Rights lawyer Tu Yu-yin (涂予尹), however, said that it would not be illegal for publishers to provide textbooks that have passed previous inspections, adding that the NAER should not seek to distort the law in an effort to intimidate schools, teachers, students and parents.
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