TAIPEI, June 28, 2013–Today is the last day of school in Taiwan. In the country’s main Catholic schools, where a significant number of missionaries and nuns work, students and teachers will take part in a final ceremony that often involves a Eucharistic celebration and a meal. “At the same time, we are working for the future,” said Mr Zhang (???), the new principal of a Catholic vocational school on the outskirts of Hsinchu. “Yesterday we breathed a sigh of relief because our students will not be required to pay tuition fees to attend our school.”

This year’s summer vacation marks the beginning of a new school system in Taiwan. After months of discussion, parliament approved a draft proposal to extend compulsory education to grade 12 (??? ? ?). Starting next year (August 2014), there will be no entrance exams for upper secondary schools.

“Our schools have always had a big role in free vocational training for kids in the area, home to Taiwan’s main computer companies,” a keen Mr Zhang said.

“The generosity of many Catholic friends and many European and American dioceses and foundations concerned about children’s education made this possible. Had the government placed a financial threshold, our spirit of generosity would have disappeared.”

Free education in secondary schools was precisely the issue debated in the past few months ago. Yesterday, a reasonable solution was finally found, given the limited resources of many school districts. The Ministry of Education decided that vocational and technical schools would not charge tuition fees.

For other types of school, school fees will be waived in the case of families making less than NT$ 1,480,000 (US$ 50,000), except for non-Taiwanese students, students that flunk out and students in private schools.

Mr Zhang said he was satisfied with the solution because it gave everyone a chance to finish school and find a job. “It is obvious,” he explained, “that if one’s family does not have financial problems and can choose the best schools, then one ought to pay out of one’s own pocket. Still, the quality of teachers is so high in all schools that the professional schools that do not charge fees offer an excellent preparation for the labour market.”

The decision to eliminate entrance exams is important. “We had reached a point where students had become real machines for exams. By contrast, I had the good fortune to be educated by foreign missionaries. Over the past century, missionaries went beyond memorising; they stressed important values, such as educating for life, which initially was just part of the curriculum in Catholic schools, but which the government extended to all primary schools because they realised that it answered many questions students had.”

Another fact that will not be forgotten very soon is the end of military training in schools. Both the Kuomintang (???) and the Democratic Progressive Party (?? ?? ?) agree that pulling military teachers from schools “clearly marks the end of authoritarian rule in Taiwan.”

Until recently, 6,000 military instructors in green uniforms taught in secondary schools and universities, providing military training as well as security.

“At last, the time has come to separate more clearly military service from education; the latter must be given by professional educators, not military personnel,” Mr Zhang said. (AsiaNews)