President Ma Ying-jeou said in his New Year's Day messageSaturday that "education is the cornerstone of national power, andchildren are our hope for the future."
To create a sounder educational environment for young people, Maannounced that the government will begin the phased implementation ofa 12-year compulsory education system, starting with vocational highschools.
The tentative plan would allow students to attend high school andvocational high school for free beginning in 2014 and in most casesnot require them to take entrance exams to get in, Ma said.
The president also announced that added support would be given topreschool education. Beginning this year, school fees forfive-year-olds will be waived. As fiscal resources permit, this willgradually be extended to three- and four-year-olds to furtheralleviate their parents' financial burden, Ma said.
The following are excerpts from local media coverage on Ma'sannouncement:United Daily News:
Deputy Education Minister Lin Tsung-ming elaborated on Saturdaythat those who enter junior high schools this August will be thefirst students to benefit from the 12-year compulsory educationsystem that will be in place in 2014.
This means that when they enter senior high schools in 2014,tuition will be free. They will only have to pay NT$1,800 inmiscellaneous fees in public schools, and NT$4,600 in privateschools.
All five-year-olds will have their school fees waived thisAugust, he said.
Lin stressed that the program would not squeeze the currenteducation budget, including the five-year, NT$50 billion programsubsidizing universities.
He said the education budget would be increased by NT$24 billionnext year, and, based on the amount, the ministry would push forphased-in tuition waivers, with vocational high schools possibly thefirst to be tuition-free this August.
The government proposed the 12-year national education program inthe early 1980s, but due to the big budgets involved and the issue ofentrance exams, it never got off the ground.
On the entrance exam exemption, Chang Ming-wen, director of theministry's Department of Secondary Education, said that currentlybetween 20 and 30 percent of junior high school students enroll insenior high schools without taking entrance exams, and he expectedthe rate to reach 70 percent by 2014.
By that time, only about 30 percent of the students will have totake entrance exams, and whether the present basic proficiency examsto enter high schools would continue will have to be discussed at alater date.
Yang Chang-yu, director of the ministry's Department ofElementary Education, said the ministry plans to exemptkindergartners from paying school fees this August, but would notrule out excluding children from wealthy families from the exemption.
It is estimated that 75 percent of five-year-old children willbenefit from the exemption, which will cost an estimated NT$6billion. (Jan. 2, 2011)Liberty Times:
The government will have to spend at least NT$20 billion to coverthe fee exemptions for senior and vocational high school students ifthe national education system is extended from nine years to 12years.
"Where can the government get the money" has become the biggestworry. If the government cannot revise the law to ensure itsfinances, the good intention of the program could be compromised.
Legislator Chen Ting-fei of the opposition Democratic ProgressiveParty said that if Ma really intends to push for a 12-year nationaleducation program, he must ask the Legislative Yuan to revise the lawto ensure sufficient funding, rather than giving a "blank check" tohelp his bid for re-election.
Chen I-hsing, a deputy education minister, said that under the12-year education program, students would be forced to complete theirfirst nine years but could decide if they wanted to go to high schoolin the final three years of the 12-year period.
Though 70 percent of the students will enroll in senior highschools exam-free by 2014, schools with distinctive features canreserve a certain quota for students who enter their schools throughexams.(Jan. 2, 2011)