The start of a new academic year this month has been drawing a lot of concern due to the implementation of the 12-Year Basic Education Curriculum Guidelines on Aug. 1.
The new guidelines are applicable to first-year students at elementary, junior-high and senior-high schools. This means that in three years, the General Scholastic Ability Test, one of the two university entrance exams, will be conducted in accordance with the requirements set forth in the new guidelines.
This year also marks the 25th year of the educational reform that started in 1994. Many people are wondering whether education, having undergone many changes and reforms, is moving along the right track and improving, or if it is deteriorating and falling behind.
The new guidelines drew a lot of attention as soon as planning started. Curriculum guidelines play a crucial role: Whenever the education system undergoes a major change, new guidelines are established to serve as the foundation of reform.
In 1968, the government established the Nine-Year Compulsory Education Curriculum Guidelines to accompany the implementation of the nine-year compulsory education system, and in 2001, it pushed for new curriculum guidelines with the launch of the Nine-Year Educational Program.
This time, the 12-Year Basic Education Curriculum Guidelines introduce a unified revision to courses across all school levels, and this will have an impact on future national education.
Given its vast influence, many aspects of the new guidelines have sparked debate in relation to the proportion of classical Chinese and modern Chinese, discourses on the history of Taiwan and gender education. Student representatives were also invited to participate in the discussion and review sessions for the new guidelines.
Unlike previous guidelines, which emphasized acquiring knowledge and cultivating skills, the new guidelines focus on “literacies,” which some students, parents and teachers find puzzling and worrisome, as it is not clear what “literacies” refer to and how they should be taught.
According to the Directions Governing the 12-Year Basic Education Curricula, “essential literacies” refer to the knowledge, competency and attitude a person should be equipped with to adapt to their current life and to face future challenges.
In an interview with the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) on Aug. 28, Minister of Education Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠) said that, as the world is changing rapidly, the new guidelines attach importance to changing the way of acquiring knowledge and skills, with particular attention being given to cultivating learning attitudes and problem-solving abilities, including the ability to work with others.
The minister’s explanation will not dispel all doubts. From a common sense perspective, or from the perspective of a real-life education practitioner, a more pertinent and down-to-earth explanation would be that “the cultivation of literacies starts from everyday life” or “the ultimate goal of learning is to put knowledge into action.”
In any case, the new guidelines emphasize the cultivation of “lifelong learning” and focus on the combination of knowledge with real-life scenarios instead of being limited to dry subject knowledge and skills.
It is unlikely that some would argue with the goal, which essentially is to ask students not to study mechanically. The question is whether this goal is achievable instead of becoming yet another pretty slogan.