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September 22, 2017

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Doing pursuits that one loves trump earning credits

It is that time of the year, as August winds down, that students are winding down their summer vacations and preparing for the next school year, or entry into a brand new stage of their lives. Yet front pages in the past week have told of the "special exam" being repudiated by New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu. The lateness of the results, forcing students to cram for the all-important exam until the very end of their vacation, has been widely blasted as hurting the well-being of pupils.

These news stories provide a window for us to take another look at the policy of 12-year education that was instituted by the government after years of refashioning and debate. Well-intentioned designs risk becoming warped if not accompanied by the encouragement of the intrinsic pursuit of learning.

One central issue is the mechanism of "exam-free admissions" (免試入學) at the core of the new education system. The term is something of a misnomer because exams still count for a third of the weight of one's evaluation for junior high school admissions. Nevertheless, in the Taipei education district the new system rewards another hefty one-third of total points in the "multi-dimensional learning performance" (多元學習表現) category. In the Tainan education district, this is further divided into "executive service" (幹部任期), "certificate qualification and competition performance" (競賽、技職證照或資格檢定), "record of commendations" (獎勵紀錄), "club participation" (社團參與), "learning to serve" (服務學習), and 'physical ability' (體適能).

There are good things in the system. For example, the mandate to keep regular profiles during middle school of each student's interest and performance in particular subjects is reflective of long-term concern aimed at helping the student identify his or her strengths and consistencies, and the 'handbook' should prove a valuable tool.

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