Ju­nior high di­ploma re­form won’t solve ed­u­ca­tion prob­lems

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

More than one in 10 ninth-graders will leave ju­nior high school with­out be­ing awarded a di­ploma this sum­mer as a re­sult of re­vised grad­u­a­tion reg­u­la­tions. The num­ber is em­bar­rass­ingly high, but it re­ally tells us some­thing about the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in this coun­try.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry es­ti­mates that of the roughly 280,000 ninth-graders na­tion­wide, 11 to 13 per­cent, or 300,000 to 350,000 stu­dents, can­not grad­u­ate this year and will re­ceive only an of­fi­cial cer­tifi­cate of their hav­ing stud­ied three years at the ju­nior high school level — some­thing short of a di­ploma.

Fail­ing to grad­u­ate from ju­nior high school is noth­ing new, but the fail­ure rate has pre­vi­ously been less than 5 per­cent.

In the past, stu­dents had only to ob­tain a pass in three of the seven fields of study to grad­u­ate: lan­guages, math, science, so­cial stud­ies, health and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, arts and the hu­man­i­ties, and in­te­grated ac­tiv­i­ties.

The first four were aca­demic sub­jects that re­quired writ­ten ex­ams, whereas the last three did not. The re­quire­ments for th­ese seven fields re­main un­changed, but now ninth­graders must pass in at least four of them, in­stead of three.

The change makes a huge dif­fer­ence for those who are not good at aca­demic sub­jects that re­quire ex­ams. The old de­sign was meant to go easy on th­ese un­der­per­form­ing stu­dents: it would be much eas­ier to ob­tain a pass in health and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, arts and the hu­man­i­ties, and in­te­grated ac­tiv­i­ties, none of which re­quire much study­ing.

But the new rules re­quire stu­dents to study harder in at least one of the aca­demic fields.

Such a change is in line with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the 12-year ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram. In the past, the com­ple­tion of the nine-year com­pul­sory ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram marked the end of ba­sic learn­ing, or for some stu­dents, the end of their school­ing. With­out ninth-grade the di­ploma, one could not move on to the se­nior high or vo­ca­tional school level.

Now that the pro­gram has been ex­tended to 12 years (with­out it be­ing com­pul­sory for any stu­dents, though), the end of the ninth grade may sim­ply mean a tran­si­tion to the last three years of one’s sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion.

As the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry ex­plains, stu­dents who fail to ob­tain a ju­nior high school di­ploma can still con­tinue their stud­ies for the last three years of sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion.

The min­istry says that rais­ing the bar for grad­u­a­tion is meant to en­cour­age stu­dents to study and take part in re­me­dial learn­ing pro­grams if they fall be­hind. It says that it ex­pects the pro­por­tion of stu­dents fail­ing to grad­u­ate will drop grad­u­ally in the fu­ture.

But the coun­try’s el­e­men­tary and sec­ondary school prin­ci­pals are wor­ried by the low grad­u­a­tion rates. They say the rates will be ex­cep­tion­ally low in re­mote ar­eas where ed­u­ca­tional re­sources are lack­ing.

Their wor­ries are un­der­stand­able. The fail­ure to grad­u­ate will be a ma­jor frus­tra­tion for stu­dents. For those who re­ally have given up on them­selves, the di­ploma may not mean much; how­ever, for those who still yearn for some kind of “achieve­ment” from their stud­ies de­spite their poor grades, it should still mean some­thing.

Fur­ther­more, if th­ese stu­dents fail to ob­tain a di­ploma af­ter fin­ish­ing se­nior high school, they will have only an el­e­men­tary school di­ploma.

There may be many rea­sons why stu­dents fail, but we have to ques­tion whether rais­ing the grad­u­a­tion re­quire­ments can re­ally bring much im­prove­ment to ju­nior high school ed­u­ca­tion in Tai­wan.

Re­vert­ing to the pre­vi­ous re­quire­ments may also fail to im­prove the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion — ex­cept for restor­ing “pride” for some stu­dents and mak­ing the grad­u­a­tion fig­ures look less em­bar­rass­ing.

What we re­ally need to think hard about is why the num­ber of un­der­per­form­ing stu­dents can be as high as 13 per­cent un­der the new grad­u­a­tion cri­te­ria. Is it be­cause of the stu­dents them­selves? What are the prob­lems with the cur­ricu­lum, teach­ers, de­sign of the ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, and dis­tri­bu­tion of re­sources?

Th­ese are some of the real is­sues that ed­u­ca­tors must tackle. The grad­u­a­tion re­quire­ments are only part of the as­sess­ment needed to help the stu­dents of our na­tion.

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