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Premier vows to narrow urban-rural digital learning gap

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Premier Su Tseng-chang on Thursday received a Ministry of Education (MOE) briefing on a program to enhance digital learning at elementary and junior high schools by providing internet access for all classrooms and tablet computers for all students. With the arrival of the digital age, digital learning has become the dominant trend in education and the pandemic has intensified that tendency. Since Taiwan is a digital powerhouse, the government should promote this trend and usher the nation into the digital learning age, the premier said.

The MOE has invested a special budget of NT$15 billion (US$539.7 million) under the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program to promoting digital learning. These projects have seen the proportion of schools with high-speed internet access grow from 10 percent to nearly 100 percent, and the proportion of classrooms with wireless internet double from less than 40 percent to more than 80 percent. Over 61,000 smart learning classrooms have also been set up, while 210,000 mobile devices have been distributed.

Due to domestic COVID outbreaks this past May, schools at all levels have cancelled in-person classes in favor of online learning, with the entire nation successfully shifting to a new mode of learning. The pandemic has also highlighted the fact that many rural, economically disadvantaged and large families do not have the digital equipment necessary to take advantage of online learning. The government has therefore decided to use the special budget to lend a hand to every child and every family, and bring the entire nation into the new age of digital learning, the premier pledged.

An additional NT$20 billion (US$719.6 million) will be invested over the next four years, he said, including funds to purchase 610,000 mobile devices before September of 2022, making one device per student in remote areas a priority. Those funds will also be used to support joint public-private sector efforts to develop digital teaching materials and subsidies to cities and counties to purchase high-quality teaching materials for their schools, and to upgrade internet bandwidth and services while using technology to assist students who are behind their peers. These investments will give both urban and rural students more diverse and dynamic learning materials to make learning more edifying and effective.

The premier noted that for the past few years, the government and the entire nation have worked to give the next generation the best possible environment to enjoy learning. In March of next year every classroom will have air conditioning, and every school will be using solar photovoltaic installations to produce more electrical power than their air conditioners will consume. By next September, remote schools will also implement a system of central kitchens to support smaller schools, using designated vehicles to deliver piping hot lunches right on time. In combination with the program to provide internet access for all classrooms and tablet computers for all students announced today, the next generation of Taiwanese will not only eat better, but study better, too.

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