The Politics of Examination in 2007

One of the points that I have continued to press is that examinations in Taiwan are a battle ground for political ideology. As I stated here, examination in its current structure was introduced to enforce an assimilationist cultural policy and here that examination has become incorporated into the social order that assures a reproduction of class order among Taiwanese.

There is no doubt this system has played a significant role in the economic development of Taiwan. However, the emergence of democratic government and the growing incorporation of Taiwan into a global economic order has placed very different pressures on schools and their related institutions. Dr. Lin Yu-tee of Taiwan’s Examination Yuan explained to me some of these issues which I wrote about in this post, including the issue that many examinations contain information about China that has no relevance for professionals working in Taiwan. The battle over whether education in Taiwan should reflect an understanding of Taiwan or China has continued to plague the lives of students and teachers.

You may have heard about the recent controversy over the Chinese section of this year’s University Entrance Examination. I have not seen the exam, but apparently in the Chinese-language section of the exam, 74% of the score was comprised of questions about classical Chinese script. A further 48% of the history section was Chinese history, in contrast to history of Taiwan and the world which comprised 18% and 42% respectively. This test is the first stage in the series of examinations students must take to qualify for entrance into a university. These exams are produced independently from the Ministry of Education by the College Entrance Exam Center the CECC which was implemented back in 1996.

Due to direct government control over certification and qualification in Taiwan, examination is a political issue. Readers familiar with my political views on Taiwan won’t have any trouble figuring what I think about exam content, but interestingly, the issue of examination content appears to be transcending partisan affiliation. I first became aware of this issue from watching the news on TVBS, which is widely considered to be an anti-government and pro-China media outlet. And as I have pointed out here and elsewhere, the current education reforms that everyone blames one the DPP were in fact started during KMT control.

In the last post, I pointed out that class is a major political issue in Taiwan, but it is not partisan. Citizens have educational aspirations for themselves and for their children. While citizens almost never blame political parties for the policies that affect class structure, they still band together when their interests are in danger. The current fight over who should and should not have access to a professional education and what kind of knowledge they are supposed to have is seriously impacting the ability of this class to plan what they consider an essential aspect of personal life.

Curriculum and testing have been critically discussed ever since democracy allowed this to happen. And perhaps the most controversy in this discussions has always been what the appropriate topics of instruction and testing should be. Increasingly members of the professional class are protesting that the contents of these examinations are too laborious to learn, archaic, or, as the Taipei Times editorial stated about the contents of this exam, “…not a suitable standard for selecting the best and brightest among Taiwan’s future leaders.”


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I think you may have a point. I recently read a theory that the reason why Japan has had little feeling of class division until recently is that there was no emphasis on classical knowledge in education after the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century.


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