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Compulsory education plan promises little real change

In two years time, Taiwan will implement its 12-year compulsory education program. But many things are not ready yet.

The ideal seems noble, providing 12 years of free education to students, but we are not certain whether it is necessary or whether there are other alternatives.

Students who entered the seventh grade last fall knew that they would be the first beneficiaries — or guinea pigs — of the 12-year compulsory program, but they did not know for certain how they would go to senior high schools or vocational schools come the fall of 2014. They still don't; neither do their parents, teachers nor the education officials.

The biggest problem is how graduates from the ninth grade will be assigned to the next grade.

Taiwan has been practicing nine-year compulsory education for decades, and government-run elementary and junior high schools — which don't require tuition fees — are well established around the nation to accommodate all students.

There are also private schools for students to choose from, but the basic idea is everyone must receive nine full years of education, whether you choose the cheaper government-run schools or the more expensive private ones.

For years, junior high school graduates have been allowed to stop schooling and go to work. But most of them have chosen to continue studying.

In order to fight for a place in one of the government-run “star” senior high schools, they have to sit for entrance exams. Again private schools are also available for the final three years of secondary education, but it is those government-run schools — such as Taipei's Chienkuo Senior High School — that have been the favorites.

Now the problem is: who will be able to enter these favorite schools?

In theory, 12-year compulsory education means that every student will have an equal opportunity and will be free from the cut-throat competition for a place in senior high schools or vocational schools of the same level.

Every student will have a place, but that place will be far from equal.

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