Chiu Hei-yuan (瞿海源)

One would be excused for missing the Forum section of the Taiwan News. After all, it is pretty obscure. It consists of translated interviews or articles written by leading academic and cultural leaders in Taiwan about different problems in contemporary society. This article by Chiu Hei-yuan (瞿海源) addresses what he sees as the failure of the DPP to establish a “discernable breakthrough” in education. Given that I once claimed that DPP education policy had failed (also see this), I suppose I should comment.

In fact, Michael Turton has already beaten me to the punch with his reply to another newspaper article featuring the same information. While he agrees with author’s opinion that DPP education policy seem pointless, “the author (Chiu Hei-yuan) then veers into the usual fact-free, idea-free nonsense we’ve come to know and love from reading policy analysis from Taiwanese scholars, who seem to be good at venting, but poor at analyzing and recommending.” I disagree both with Michael’s position on Dr. Chiu’s analysis and also with Dr. Chiu’s position on DPP education policy.

It is very clear to me that the DPP do have an education policy. The textbook problem and the issue of too many universities are reflections of this. Both of these policies were initially instigated under KMT government, but as I wrote about here, because the DPP does not control the Legislative Yuan, it can not conduct policy in the manner that most democratic governments do. The result of this is that they have adopted an education policy that reflects the realpolitike of the situation, rather than professional oinion. Education has become as instrument which the DPP uses to solidify their control over the country — and this is DPP education policy.

So the DPP is using education as a political tool. The expansion of universities is a prime example of this situation. This policy was begun while government was still controlled by the KMT. Its original purpose was to stem the brain drain of talented Taiwanese and the subsequent flow of capital that goes with this. The DPP have taken control of the policy and turned it into a mechanism of making education possible for absolutely everyone who wants it. The results of this have been devastating. Schooling has become so devalaued that much of it is now meaningless, but at the same time, this has been a very useful political move for the DPP. To some degree, they have been sucessful at creating the image that opportunity is now openly available. Of course it doesn’t work in the long-run or even the medium-run, but opening universities for the children of people who never had the chance is always a good vote getter. The DPP have been full of these quick fix education policies that didn’t turn out the way they planned; foreign teachers, kindergarten regulation, and localization. And as Michael alludes to, they are not above using school construction and textbook contracts as a method to reward those who support them.

What then is the DPP’s education policy? Education is not viewed as a policy to prepare this generation with workplace skills or the skills to critically analyze society. Instead, it is a method the government uses to keep control over their power base and assure reelection. It is run neither by professional educators nor professional bureaucrats in the Ministry, but by individuals whose first priority is the survival of the party and the individuals who appointed them.

Which brings me back to the topic of this post, Dr. Chiu Hei-yuan. Dr. Chiu is a fellow of the Academia Sinica where he is Chairman of the Institute of Sociology. He has degrees from elite schools in both Taiwan and the USA, including a PhD from Princeton. He is perhaps Taiwan’s top sociologist. As a member of Taiwan’s educational elite, it is not surprising that he believes education is not properly funded and that schooling is becoming meaningless.

While I agree with Michael that Dr. Chih’s piece on education may not have a strong thesis, his political message is much clearer when taken together with other writings he has done. In addition to his scientific writing, a number of his opinion pieces have appeared translated in the pro-Green newspaper, Taipei Times. One of these appeared shortly after the DPP’s first election in 2000, supported the halt in construction on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant proposed by the government. Another article contained this 2002 criticism of the Pan-Blue bid for Taipei and Kaohsiung mayor. In this aricle, he is quoted commenting on VCDs released during the last presidential election that lampoon Pan-Blue candidates. A more recent article echoes the positions of Dr. Lin Yi-ti that schooling and examination should reflect the ‘common sense’ position that Taiwan is not China. While Dr. Chiu’s writing is conspicuously void of Pan-Green jingoism, perhaps because it reflects my own political beliefs about Taiwan, it is clear to me that he supports the pro-Taiwan/anti-China factions of the Taiwan identity argument. And it is this he is almost certainly referring to when he says that the DPP have no education policy.

In a sense, he is correct. Education policy in Taiwan has not been particularly successful as a vehicle to create Taiwan identity. The DPP is neither capable of doing this, nor do I think they are interested in doing this unless it furthers their survival as a political party. They are politicians who grew up under military rule and have become masters at using its weaknesses against itself. Their local members have been sacrificing for decades. It’s time they got something back. Education is one of the ways the DPP is using to repay them. And that’s DPP’s education policy

September 08, 2005 in People You Should Know | Permalink

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Thanks, Scott, for the extra context. It was very helpful.


Posted by: Michael Turton | September 11, 2005 at 20:19

Some quick thoughts:

One of the things the DPP has done is cut subsidies to schools that have special needs – rural schools and schools for aborigines, etc. This has angered many educators. Taiwan’s constitution mandates a minumum percentage of the GDP be spent on education, so things can’t get too bad, but it is necessary for the government to raise additional funds above and beyond this minimum. Especially when implementing major educational reforms.

In this sense, and I think you’ve made this point before, the DPP is not unlike Bush whose NCLB policy has been attacked for being underfunded, while simultaneously punishing schools for not instituting major changes. I think many Taiwanese are upset about this.

It may be the case that the KMT are blocking the DPP’s ability to fund these programs, but I think that something else is going on here. I think they want to devolve educational power to the local level in order to ensure that if the KMT come back to power they can’t reverse these directions. Cutting the financial tether to the central government is one way of doing this. A tremendous amount of authority over curriculum design now resides with the schools themselves.

But there is a disconnect in that the the old standards and testing mechanisms have not yet been abolished. This puts schools in a bind. The protest earlier this year over the number of adjunct teachers who have not been allowed to test for fulltime status is just one example of the financial problems now faced by schools.

Posted by: Kerim Friedman | September 12, 2005 at 09:07


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