New education minister's policy sparks controversy

New education minister's policy sparks controversy

Taipei, May 22 (CNA) Education Minister Pan Wen-chung has triggered controversy two days after assuming office by announcing a policy aimed at allowing all junior high school students to enter high school without having to take a standard examination.

The policy would seek to have students enroll in the school closest to where they live.

Members of an alliance of parents backing a 12-year national education policy expressed concerns Sunday that the policy would limit students' options in choosing the right high school for them.

The policy was part of President Tsai Ing-wen's political platform during her election campaign, but its goals remain unclear, the alliance said. "Given that high school is a crucial stage of student distribution, (the Ministry of Education) should not use it (the policy) to constrain students' right to choose," the alliance argued.

It said it was astonished that the new education minister announced such an important policy so soon after taking office, the alliance said.

The group cited Penghu County, which has one senior high school and one vocational senior high school, as an example of the type of problem the new policy could cause.

The two schools can accommodate all of the junior high school students in the island county, so it would appear at first glance that freeing students from having to take a standard examination to get into high school would be practical, the alliance said.

If most junior high students in the county want to study at the high school rather than the vocational high school, however, could the Ministry of Education force some of them to attend the vocational high school against their will? the alliance wondered.

"It is dangerous" to promote the policy without setting clear goals, the alliance argued, saying it would cause a problem of fairness if enrollment in high schools was only based on students' regular grades in school.

At present, junior high school students must take a comprehensive assessment examination that determines for the most part where they go to high school.

Backers of the exam system feel it evens the playing field and allows the best students, regardless of where they reside, to enroll in the best high schools.

"The more complicated a system is, the more disadvantageous it will be for socially disadvantaged families," the alliance warned in criticizing the new policy.

Critics of the comprehensive assessment examination believe it puts too much pressure on students, among other flaws.

Pan unveiled several other measures on Saturday, including scrapping controversial revisions to guidelines for high school history textbooks adopted in 2015.

He also proposed to adopt the textbook guidelines for the 12-year national education system in the 2018 academic year but postpone the adoption of guidelines for history books until 2020.

Pan also said he will establish a NT$5 billion (US$152.7 million) fund to help address layoffs of college/university teachers and staff when their schools are shut down due to low enrollment, but postpone the implementation of a five-year, NT$80 billion higher education transformation plan. (By Hsu Chi-wei and Elizabeth Hsu)

Updated : 2021-03-04 15:02 GMT+08:00