Creative teaching materials such as pop-up books spark motivation and a joy for learnig in these elementary school students. (Courtesy of Taiwan Panorama)
Citizens of the Republic of China (ROC) have a variety of quality education resources. For decades, a nine-year compulsory and universal education system has been implemented, reducing the illiteracy rate to 1.40 percent at the end of 2015. Beginning from the 2014-2015 school year, national fundamental education was extended to 12 years. The number of universities has also increased dramatically in recent years in tandem with a shift among young people toward higher academic degrees.
In 2015, about 96 percent of 5-year-old children attended preschools. To provide equal opportunities for preschool-age children and help parents defray the cost of such education, the government has partially subsidized preschool tuition since August 2011, providing up to NT$14,000 (US$475) per school year for a child to attend a public preschool and NT$30,000 (US$1,018) for education in a private institution. As of school year 2015-2016, roughly 31 percent of all preschools were public.
Elementary to Junior High School
The National Education Act 國民教育法 stipulates that all children from ages 6 to 15 must attend six years of elementary school and three years of junior high school. In the 2015-2016 school year, 97.77 percent of students eligible for compulsory education were enrolled. In recent years, average class sizes at elementary and junior high schools have been reduced to 23.17 and 28.71 students, respectively, while the student-teacher ratio has fallen to 12.47:1 and 11.51:1, respectively, for the two school levels.
Elementary and junior high school curricula address seven major areas of learning: language arts, health and physical education, social studies, arts and humanities, mathematics, science and technology, as well as integrative activities. Some junior high schools offer technical courses to students in their third year of study, paving the way for their enrollment in skill-based senior high schools or five-year junior colleges upon graduation.
From 2014, all students in the final year of junior high are required to participate in the Comprehensive Assessment Program for Junior High School Students 國中教育會考. The test results gauge their academic capabilities and guide them in choosing their next level of education—senior high school or five-year junior college
Senior High School
In 2015, almost all junior high school graduates continued on to further studies. They either followed the academic track via regular senior high school programs, or opted for vocational education, mostly in skill-based senior high school programs and, to a much lesser degree, five-year junior college.
The three-year regular program prepares students aged 15 to 18 for higher academic education in general subjects, such as foreign languages, mathematics and the social and natural sciences. Students are encouraged to pursue extracurricular interests and participate in international competitions, student clubs and nongovernmental organizations; involvement in such activities is a factor considered when they subsequently seek admission to university.
The three-year skill-based program allows students to specialize in a given field, such as industry, commerce or nursing. Students are encouraged to take national examinations for technical or vocational licenses in preparation for entering the work force. Some graduates seek employment or start their own businesses, while most go on to tertiary education.
A large number of senior high schools offer a comprehensive program of both vocational and academic curricula, enabling students to select from a wide range of courses before deciding whether to continue on an academic or a vocational track. In addition to general subjects, such as foreign languages, mathematics and social sciences, various technical courses are provided for students looking to enter a trade or join the work force. About 57,500—or 7.26 percent of—senior high school students enrolled in these programs in the 2015-2016 school year.
For students with a special aptitude, this program offers core curricula that feature a specific subject or field, such as athletics and arts.
Higher academic education is provided by colleges, universities and graduate schools, while technical and vocational education is provided by junior colleges and colleges/universities of science and technology. In 2015, the number of citizens with higher education degrees totaled 8.67 million—about 37 percent of the population.
Admission to colleges and universities is by recommendation, application or examination and placement. Senior high school students take the General Scholastic Ability Test 學科能力測驗, which assesses their competence in Chinese, English, mathematics and the natural and social sciences. They then seek recommendation from their school or apply to their institutions of choice themselves.
Those who have failed to gain admission to the institution of their choice through the aforementioned method can take an Advanced Subjects Test 指定科目考試, depending on the requirements of the college or university. Students are assigned to an institution on their preference list based on their performance.
To pursue technical education, skill-based senior high school students sit for only one set of joint entrance exams on general and specialized subjects. They are admitted to tertiary institutions through application, recommendation by their school or placement based on their performance on the exams.
The number of students enrolling in university/college undergraduate programs in 2015 had increased by 2.77 percent from 2005. During that period, the proportion of those students following the vocational track declined from 51.64 to 49.04 percent. The number of private universities has doubled over the last decade, and the majority of junior colleges and colleges are private.
Taiwan offers two- and five-year junior college programs. Two-year programs enroll students directly from skill-based and comprehensive senior high schools along with individuals with equivalent academic qualifications. Junior high school graduates or others with equivalent academic qualifications may enter five-year programs. Associate degrees are conferred on those who complete all courses of study.
Fields of study open to junior college students include industry, commerce, health care and nursing, marine technology, languages, home economics, tourism and hospitality.
Colleges and Universities of Science and Technology
Colleges and universities of science and technology admit graduates of skill-based senior high schools, comprehensive senior high schools or others with equivalent academic qualifications and may offer undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs. Undergraduate programs may be for two or four years. Internships are available to qualifying students. Two-year programs take in graduates from two- or five-year junior college programs, who are awarded bachelor’s degrees upon course completion. Graduate students must submit a thesis or present a dissertation in addition to completing their required courses.
Universities, Colleges and Graduate Schools
The bulk of programs at Taiwan’s universities and colleges last four years. Those for training teachers and architects require five. Medical (including dentistry) programs, meanwhile, require six years of study. Master’s programs take one to four years, and doctoral programs two to seven. In the 2015-2016 school year, there were 44.07 undergraduate, 7.25 master’s and 1.25 doctoral students per 1,000 people in Taiwan.
Encouraging Excellence in Higher Education
To improve the quality of higher education, colleges and universities are encouraged to conduct self-evaluations and are subject to assessment once every six years by the Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan 高等教育評鑑中心基金會, which is funded by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and higher education institutions. Departments that score poorly on these evaluations face a reduction in the quota of students they may accept.
In 2005, the MOE launched the Program for Promoting Teaching Excellence of Universities 獎勵大學教學卓越計畫, offering financial support to institutions of higher education to raise professional teaching standards, improve teaching facilities and maximize learning efficiency. In 2016, 33 universities, most of which were private institutions, received funding totaling NT$1.57 billion (US$47.02 million).
The MOE began a 10-year program in 2006 to strengthen basic university education, recruit first-rate foreign professors and promote international academic collaboration for Taiwan’s top universities and affiliated research centers. The second phase, the Aim for the Top University Project 邁向頂尖大學計畫, kicked off in 2011 with funding totaling NT$50 billion (US$1.70 billion) over a five-year period and included new objectives such as bolstering research centers and training more industry talents.
In terms of world rankings, 11 Taiwanese universities were listed in the top 500 in the prestigious QS World University Rankings for 2015-2016, with National Taiwan University (NTU) 國立臺灣大學 placing 70th. A separate ranking by British weekly Times Higher Education placed 24 Taiwan universities—led by NTU at No. 167—in its top 800 list for 2015-2016.
Special education programs are available for individuals with learning or other disabilities and for children demonstrating strong abilities in mathematics or the sciences, as well as talented students who excel in the fine arts, performing arts or sports.
In accord with trends in other developed nations toward inclusive education, a number of mainstream schools offer classes to students having special talents or challenges, providing facilities to meet their needs from elementary through secondary school. Most disabled students attend regular classes with other students while also utilizing resource rooms where they receive individualized instruction.
Schools for physically or mentally challenged students run parallel to the mainstream education system. Largely government-funded, they offer classes from preschool through senior high and vocational school. In school year 2015-2016, about 87,900 students attended 259 such schools.
The MOE supports a number of supplementary and continuing education programs. It also provides funding for a range of institutions, such as museums, libraries, and events of educational value.
Public supplementary schools are affiliated with regular schools at their corresponding levels and take the form of distance learning or night schools, with weekend classes also being offered. Courses are provided to adults from the elementary through the college level. After completing their courses and passing exams, graduates from advanced programs earn mainstream-equivalent diplomas.
The highest level of education in the system is provided by National Open University 國立空中大學 in New Taipei City 新北市 and Open University of Kaohsiung 高雄市立空中大學. A total of 15,180 students were enrolled in the open universities during the 2015-2016 school year.
Active Aging Learning Centers 樂齡學習中心 have been set up around the nation to encourage people aged 55 and older to continue to improve themselves through education. Attendance of nearly 1.8 million was recorded for the 75,786 classes held at the 313 centers open in 2015. A further 3,500 seniors attended semester-long courses alongside university students at 103 participating institutions.
About one-third of Taiwanese have taken online courses in the burgeoning e-learning field. To equip citizens with the tools and skills needed to thrive in the digital world, the government has been developing and expanding e-learning programs for both children and adults. In 2015, 2,313 courses were offered by 126 digital opportunity centers 數位機會中心 built in rural areas, providing people in more distant communities with a place from which to explore the world online.
The Digital Outreach Project 深耕數位關懷方案 launched in 2012 aims to expand use of information technology among women, senior citizens and low-income households. As of the end of 2015, the project increased the proportion of women using the Internet to 76.3 percent and that of indigenous people to 77.4 percent.
Under the ide@ Taiwan 2020 policy white paper 創意臺灣政策白皮書 released in 2015, the central government outlined specific measures to induce dynamic teaching through digital learning. At primary and junior high schools, fiber-optic broadband connections with speeds of at least 100 megabytes per second will be established. Digital teaching materials will be made comprehensive, and teacher training increased. To make instruction more dynamic, schools are encouraged to develop diverse applications of digital learning such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and online tutoring programs (see box “Online Tutoring for Remote Students”).
Many colleges and universities have developed MOOCs that provide lifelong learning opportunities for students and the general public. Also, the MOE’s Active Aging Learning Centers and digital opportunity centers offer courses on information technology for middle-aged and senior citizens.
Taiwan has long been a popular location for students of Mandarin Chinese. In the 2015-2016 school year, 110,182 overseas students studied in Taiwan, among whom 18,645 attended Chinese language classes. A total of 45 Chinese language centers are affiliated with universities and staffed by professionally trained TCSL (Teaching Chinese as a Second Language) teachers. The largest is the National Taiwan Normal University Mandarin Training Center 國立臺灣師範大學國語教學中心.
Students who pass the Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language 華語文能力測驗 may enroll in Chinese-language degree programs. Additionally, 40 universities offered 107 programs taught in English in 2015. Coursework offered ranged from engineering and agriculture to management and biotechnology. Additional information on institutions and programs for foreign students is available at http://www.studyintaiwan.org.
Outside the ROC, eight Taiwan Education Centers in seven countries offer Mandarin language programs and counseling services to those interested in pursuing studies in Taiwan. Mandarin and traditional Chinese character study programs are also available at the Taiwan Academy 臺灣書院 branches that have been set up in the U.S. cities of New York, Houston and Los Angeles.
In 2015, around 38,000 Taiwanese students were granted visas for pursuing studies abroad. Their main countries of choice were the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada.
Mandarin, known as Guoyu 國語 in the ROC, is the nation’s official language. In addition to Mandarin, large segments of the population speak the Sinitic languages Holo 河洛語 and Hakka 客語, and various Austronesian languages are used by indigenous peoples. Over the last decade, there has been growing awareness of the importance of preserving Taiwan’s rich linguistic heritage, leading central and local governments to promote education in local languages. Since 2001, all elementary school students have been required to take courses in at least one of the non-Mandarin languages spoken natively in Taiwan. Continued study is an elective in junior high school.
The written Chinese language is intelligible to speakers of all Sinitic tongues. While mainland China adopted simplified characters in 1956 in a bid to ameliorate its widespread illiteracy, the ROC continues to employ traditional written characters.
To help people learn proper Mandarin pronunciation, the MOE formulated the Mandarin Phonetic Symbols 注音符號 in 1913 as a standard phonetic system. This system, consisting of 37 phonetic symbols and four tone marks, is still taught in elementary schools today.
Over the years, a variety of Romanization styles have been developed to make Chinese phonetics easier to learn for foreigners. The ROC government has used the Hanyu Pinyin system 漢語拼音 since 2008. The Wade-Giles system and Tongyong Pinyin system 通用拼音 are also used on the island. (For a comparison of different Romanization systems, see Appendix VI.)
English has been a required subject for students in junior and senior high schools for decades. In 2005, it was made compulsory from the third grade of elementary school.
In 1996 the MOE began encouraging second foreign language study at senior high schools. In the 2015-2016 school year, around 102,900 students enrolled in elective courses in Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Korean, Russian, Italian, Vietnamese, Indonesian or Latin. The most popular language was Japanese, the choice of over 32,000 of these students. Besides schools, copious public and private institutions provide language education as well.
The growing number of immigrant spouses from Southeast Asia has promoted the government to roll out language programs helping Taiwan-born children of immigrants to learn their mother tongues. In 2012, the National New Immigrant Torch Project 全國新住民火炬計畫 was initiated to provide language lessons including Indonesian, Vietnamese and Thai at certain elementary schools. The MOE plans to incorporate immigrant languages into the 12-year national fundamental curriculum for 2018 and to expand the number of classes to more than 3,300 by that time.
• Ministry of Education: http://www.edu.tw
• Study in Taiwan: http://www.studyintaiwan.org
• Taiwan Academy: http://taiwanacademy.tw