In 1987, the Republic of China lifted the Martial Law and the first bona fide democratic constitution in Chinese history was finally in practice in Taiwan. Seven years later, on April 10th, 1994, a protest was held to call for education reform with four major propositions: practicing small-class and small-school teaching, setting up more senior high schools and universities, establishing the Fundamental Law of Education, and promoting the modernization of education. Efforts to realize such in every aspect of education are continually made through the Education Reform Committee of the Executive Yuan.
In the past 20 years, education reform in Taiwan had been through heated debates and still under scrutiny. In this film, reform advocators, government officials, critics, teachers, students, and parents were interviewed, in an attempt to review its purposes from a historical perspective and to gain insights on the dilemmas it faced along with reasons behind. We structured the film by seven classroom episodes: "History Class: Prequel of Education Reform", "Education Class: When Cram Schools Become Real Schools", "Ethics Class: New Life, Old Ethics", "Economics of Winning and Losing", "Public Administration Class: What Happened to the Public Sector", "Civic Class: General Plans for the Future", and "Biology Class: Species Diversity". Adopting the preluding textbook recitation by elementary school students and humorous stand-up comedy, a serious topic was presented in a light-hearted atmosphere. As we present the testimonies and opinions from reform advocators and witnesses, we hope to look, layer by layer, into the core of education reform and simultaneously into the core of sociocultural reform in Taiwan.
About the Director
Born in Taiwan, 1966, CHANG Chao-wei both writes and produces for television, print and web in Taiwan and China. An accomplished author, he has published three books to date. He has also written widely on international and local current affairs and culture for various magazines. He presently works as the Chief Producer of CNEX on developing various documentary projects in Greater China Region.
2012 The Non-conformist: Chen Du-xiu 1879-1942
2007 Way of Fortune
2005 Dreaming of Building
2004 Leftism Forgone and Generation Divided
2000 Throat of Mountain and Ocean
1998 Crossover – Map of Ruins
1997 Flying Before the Storm
From The Director
Education: A Century-long Scheme, or a “Beautifying Tool”?
I have been working in mainland China for nearly ten years now and settled down there almost eight years ago. Learn to Reform marks my latest attempt to discuss Taiwan-related issues after I have been away from the island for such a long time. At first, I set out to make this film only to fulfill a requirement at work. Holding an education-themed documentary film festival in Taipei, we cannot do without a film on education reforms. But where should I start? The setting-up of more senior high schools and universities? The "One Guideline, Multiple Textbooks" policy? The Diversified College Enrollment Scheme? Or the most fiercely debated 12-year Compulsory Education? To be honest, I'm familiar with none of those. And I couldn't possibly delve deep into these thorny issues within a short period of time. Or else, I would definitely feel trapped and not be able to bring myself out. Such is always a big no-no when making documentaries.
I already realized in the very beginning that to discuss education reform is really to review and reflect upon it as part of the trend of reforms that came after the lifting of martial laws in Taiwan. The areas being reformed include media, finance, politics, government ownership…etc., and the aim is basically to loosen up regulations and yield power to the people. In retrospect, have these reforms been successful? We may perhaps conclude that the private sector has become more vibrant since the reforms and private corporations have been energized. The control of party-state has indeed been reduced, too. On the other hand, however, an M-shaped society has appeared. Opinion-holders deliberately confront each other with their swords unsheathed and bows drawn. They are not able to have reciprocal conversations at all. What perspectives should be taken when we look at the reform items implemented over the last 20 years? What lessons must be learnt so that we can look forward to a brighter future? Among all the reforms, what does education reform mean to Taiwan, after all? And what role does it play in the society?
This is how I approach the topic of education reform.
And with these questions in mind, I found the most troublesome dilemma in Taiwan. On the one hand, when education reform was brought up in the beginning, it was supported by both the ruling and opposition parties and thus the Education Reform Committee under the Executive Yuan hosted by LEE Yuan-tseh came into effect. But on the other hand, whenever political strife deepens or economy goes limp, education most likely becomes a scapegoat. In a less serious case, policies are changed. In a more serious one, Minister of Education hastily bids farewell to his or her post. Do we care about education enough to put century-long effort into education, or do we merely take it as a magic makeup that makes the overall reform scheme look successful in Taiwan? In search of the answers to the above-mentioned questions, I thought of a documentary that I produced on CHEN Du-xiu, a key promoter of the May Fourth Movement in China during the early 20th century. I was deeply impressed by "Our Last Awakening", an article he wrote in 1916. Back in that year, the Second Revolution against general and politician YUAN Shi-kai had just failed. In the article, CHEN reviewed the reforms and revolutions of all levels since the Opium War. He gave a harsh comment that if the Chinese people could not come to a brisk ethical awakening, a new China would never be born. He noted, "In ancient times, Chinese people aspired to have wise kings to rule the country with benevolence, but people today only hope that leading politicians can set up a constitutional republic for them. Such self-belittling and ugly people they are! [… ] If this constitutional republic is not based on people's awareness and participation, it will only be a fake constitutional republic that is in essence a political ornament. It will be nothing like the real ones in Europe and America." At the end of the article, he cried, "ethical awakening is our last but the most important awakening to achieve." It dawned on me, when reading CHEN's article, that all of the education reform projects launched in Taiwan in the 1990s have changed the relationships between teachers and students, principals and teachers, and parents and school faculty. They have also changed the relation between the state and the education system. The traditional notion, which derives from the ancient Chinese imperial examination system, that academic achievements can lead to a life-long success is no longer the case. And our next generation also imagine their future differently… Wait, aren't these changes made at an ethical level? Should education reform not be prioritized over any other reform and placed at a vantage point?
Let us travel through time and compare different time periods: In 1912, the Republic of China was born. This is a fruitful result of the first republican revolution in Chinese history. Seven years later in 1919, the May Fourth Movement against Chinese traditions took place.
In 1987, martial laws were lifted in the Republic of China. For the first time in Chinese history, a constitutional system that is truly free from totalitarianism was finally in practice in Taiwan. Seven years later in 1994, a large-scale parade aiming to loosen up regulations and enhance a happy learning process was launched. The May Fourth Movement, or the New Culture Movement, is a reform/revolution at cultural and ethical levels. During that time, debates between the liberal and the conservative were countless. It was only until the 1930s that both parties stopped the dogfight for the time being and fought against foreign enemies together when the Manchurian Incident and the Marco Polo Bridge Incident took place. After World War II, the Nationalist Government retreated to Taiwan. During the 1960s and the 1970s, debates were still in place, this time about the horizontal transplants of foreign cultures and the vertical inheritance of Chinese culture, as well as the contradictions between tradition and modernity. No matter what, since 1919, the discussions over reforms at ethical and cultural levels in Chinese societies have mainly been held by elites. It was only until the April 10th Parade and the Seventh National Education Conference were held in 1994 as part of the comprehensive education reform scheme in Taiwan that education reform at ethical and cultural levels penetrated the entire civil society and was spread to every corner of Taiwan through policy implementation. Its level of influence is unprecedented since the launch of "Dismiss the hundred schools, revere only the Confucian" policy in 2nd Century B.C. Through the participation of teachers, parents and students, education reform in Taiwan has liberated the minds and thoughts of its public as it is practiced far and wide.
The question is, is the civil society ready to accept these fundamental changes? How shall we deal with the issue of ethical awakening, as proposed by CHEN Du-xiu, while the society is being modernized? If we can't reach a new ethical level by freeing ourselves from old-time ideologies, can Chinese societies stride towards a truly modern time? If not, how shall we look at the century-old republic that we have been working hard to sustain, or face the spirits of the early intellectuals and revolutionists who fought so hard against the invading colonialists? How shall we look at the turbulence of the 20th Century? Are they really just messy accounts that can never be disentangled? I was only able to think this far regarding this issue. Besides, I knew the schedule was tight, and I had no time to dig into, comb through or debate about it more deeply. Furthermore, I probably was not allowed to propose as many heavy questions to the audience as I like. I could only keep my questions in mind and began the quest. This filming project is based on interviews. Other than reform advocators and opponents, as well as policy makers, I also wanted to interview parents, teachers and students. But I must control the number of interviewees well, or the film would become too noisy and loose. What would be my selection standard, then, especially when it comes to civil interviewees?
Thereafter, I experienced something that I have never had during my near-20-year career. Everyone, no matter they are my close friends, my family, or just someone I recently made acquaintance with, gave a bunch of opinions or shared their personal experiences as soon as they knew that I was making a film on education reform in Taiwan, and their speeches were all amazing and intriguing. But when I proposed to film the interviews, more than half of them said no.
High-ranking officials, nobility, intellectual elite, laymen and nobodies, everyone has an opinion about education reform.This verifies my previous assumption that education reform has "penetrated the entire civil society and was spread to every corner of Taiwan." But is it because the Chinese people have a complicated feeling about ethical awakening that they refused to be interviewed? Despite the difficulties, I still managed to secure some interviews with help from friends, family and the production team. All of the selected teachers, students and parents are people I'm not familiar with. I had no time to talk to them in advance either. The conversations took place as soon as lighting and cameras were set up. I had no idea what they would say. But to my surprise, these interviewees, although not knowing each other, coming from different professional areas, and having diverse life experiences, gave speeches that are all interrelated and even sometimes serve as wonderful debating materials at many levels. Such has been an unexpected, fruitful result and what mesmerized me the most during the shoot.
It is thanks to the public members who took the interviews, the reform advocators who shared their experiences, and the opponents who contributed their opinions, that I was able to draw a rough picture of education reform in Taiwan over the last twenty years while giving a few comments on the key issues in such a short time. Over all, I believe the present impasse results from three things: the reluctance for an ethical awakening as bound by traditions and norms, the prioritization of economic development over anything else, and the unsatisfactory performance of the public sector. None of them may be resolved by educational agencies alone.
If the education agencies were to strike a key point for a resonating butterfly effect, I believe bringing the public and private sectors more closely together is a way. That is, inviting volunteering professionals to serve as the board of directors in private schools while allowing private companies to operate public schools on the government's behalf, as mentioned at the end of the film. This will be a hybridization of the education system, through which we can introduce the concept of public welfare to private schools, and to instill the resilience and vitality of the private sector into the public one. We shall not stick to the old-time ideas, such as "he who excels in study can follow an official career" or "a public servant is an official", that set the public and the private apart. After all, in a democratic society, isn't the government the people? In a globalized world, aren't corporations supposed to serve the people, too? With this film, I would like every one of us to rethink and restructure the definition of the public and the private sectors, so that we can respond to the ethical proposition revealed by CHEN Du-xiu a hundred years ago.
It is only when we can respond to the proposition well that Taiwan can keep leading the Chinese communities around the world on a modern path. I also believe that being a modern leader of Chinese communities is the key for Taiwan to develop its politics, economics, national security and cultural power, as well as to effectively participate in the dynamic international community.
This is the most critical enlightenment that dawned on me as I turned around to look at my homeland again after so many years. In light of this, education undoubtedly requires a century-long effort. If in the future anyone takes it as a disposable "beautifying tool" again, I shall rise up and protest against it.