Compulsory Education: As mandated by the Compulsory Education Law of 1982 and its implementation guidelines of 1984, the basic structure of the educational system in Taiwan is based on a nine-year compulsory education program originally formulated in 1968 that is now referred to as the "Nine-year National Education Program." In order to emphasize its comprehensive scope, the former elementary and junior high school programs (called 6-3, which meant six years of primary school and three years of middle school) have become relegated to "stage" status in the national program—stages one and two, to be precise. The consequence of this change has been that many customary terms related to this all-important compulsory education period are now used interchangeably or, as is the case with terms like elementary and primary education, have fallen into obsolescence. The term basic education has come into usage, with restricted reference only to the kindergarten and elementary portions of Taiwan's educational program. This overlap of terminology is further complicated by fundamental cultural differences in conceptualization: Americans, for example, distinguish between preschools (day-care centers) and kindergartens; in Taiwan, the distinction between the two is not nearly so firm, if it exists at all.
Preprimary or kindergarten education in Taiwan, which serves children the age of 4 to 6, is not compulsory, but its systematic development has been greatly aided by the passage of the 1981 Early Childhood Education Law. Also optional is education at the three-year senior secondary level, for which one must pass an entrance examination before entering either an academic or vocational track. University attendance requires both senior high graduation and the successful completion of an entrance examination. While the typical undergraduate study program lasts the standard four years, students may be required to commit to five to seven years of study before obtaining degrees from the departments of law, medicine, and dentistry. Thus, it is not uncommon for students in Taiwan to have already completed as much as 21 years of schooling before commencing graduate study. Supplementary schools for nontraditional students and special schools for the disabled complete the educational system as it currently exists in Taiwan.
The successful codification of Taiwan's compulsory education initiatives is supported by noteworthy statistical results. Figures on educational attainment for 1995 indicate that only 9.1 percent of the age 25 and over population has no formal schooling. Additionally, 6.9 percent have a less-than-complete primary education, and 23.9 percent received only a primary education. Statistics at the secondary level (for which the senior portion is not compulsory) are less impressive, as 26 percent of the population has an incomplete secondary education, while 20.5 percent have a complete secondary education. As for optional education levels, 8.2 percent have completed some college and 5.4 percent have completed an undergraduate education or higher. Moreover, literacy figures are just as impressive as the 1995 statistics regarding compulsory education. In 1995, those in the population age 15 and over deemed to be literate stood at 15,006,668 (93.7 percent), including 8,156,195 males (97.6 percent) and 7,149,455females (90.2 percent).
In 1999, it was found that 92 percent of those who completed the standard nine-year compulsory education chose to pursue higher studies. Also in 1999, the exceedingly powerful Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that the illiteracy rate was a mere 5.09 percent. Nonetheless, the MOE allocated the equivalent of US$9.18 million to a program aimed at reducing the illiteracy rate to less than two percent within the next five years. Finally, no statistics better indicate the effectiveness of the Taiwanese compulsory model of education than the percentages of enrolled students in the targeted age groups. The percentage of the population age 6 to 14 that was enrolled in school in 1997 was 79.26 percent; that same year, the figure for students age 6 to 14 was 98.38 percent.
In 1998, the total number of registered schools at all different levels in Taiwan was 7,657. The student-teacher ratio was 19.83:1 and the average number of students per class was 36.44. Finally, the compulsory nature of the initial stage of formal education in Taiwan has no doubt had some effect on enhancing the civic appreciation for education as a lifelong enterprise and thus fostered its voluntary pursuit. During the 1997-1998 academic year, 23.79 percent of the citizenry of Taiwan (or about 5.2 million people) attended an educational institution of some type; this contrasts with only 13.9 percent (or perhaps 1.2 million) in the early 1950s.
Academic Year: Although it is punctuated with important holidays, the academic year for all students is essentially the same as the calendar year. Classes begin on August 1 and end on July 31 of the following year. The academic year consists of two semesters—the first, from August 1 to January 31, and the second, from February 1 to July 31.
Language of Instruction: Mandarin Chinese remains the principal language of instruction in Taiwan's schools. Instruction in Mandarin remains an educational policy norm. However, recent national conversations concerning indigenous populations, multilingualism, and multiculturalism indicate that an increasing percentage of the population (about 45 percent, according to a 1998 ROC Mainland Affairs Council poll) embraces dual Chinese-Taiwanese identity. Shifts such as this have undermined the former Mandarin-only policy as exclusionary. Today, Taiwanese (as well as Hakka and certain aboriginal languages) is beginning to be taught at the elementary school level. However, for the present, the tacit instructional norm at the elementary level and certainly beyond it remains Mandarin.
Instructional Technology: With respect to technology, Taiwan's entire educational system has directly benefited from the nation's hugely successful economy, which specialiizes in information technolog manufacturing. In fact, Taiwan has emerged as a world leader in the manufacturing of high-technology products. In 2000, sales of personal computers and related information technology products exceeded US$2 billion, and Taiwan is already the world's largest supplier of motherboards, monitors, keyboards, scanners, mice, and power supply systems. The number of broadband Internet users in Taiwan is projected to reach 820,000 by the end of 2001, an increase of 228 percent from the previous year. Therefore, it is not surprising that Taiwan's educational system is also one of the world's most advanced in terms of information technology infrastructure and computer literacy.
Curriculum—Development: The MOE is empowered to set curriculum standards at all educational levels. First, the MOE commissions experts in a given field to act as an ad hoc advisory committee. That group examines the issues and submits its curriculum recommendations, after which any and all changes must be generated by the ministry itself. One indication of the extent to which the MOE is a direct extension of vested government interest in the educational process is the significance it places on the promotion of scientific and technical studies, often at the expense of the humanities. This emphasis on scientific, engineering, and mathematical studies clearly indicates the conviction that the interests of the nation should take precedence over the desires of individual students. But national and cultural loyalty is also an important aspect of Taiwan's educational curriculum at every level and, as a result, textbooks for moral education are also either designed or authorized by the MOE. Most textbooks and curriculum materials used throughout Taiwan are produced and distributed by the National Institute of Compilation and Translation, based on MOE guidelines.
An important staple of Taiwan's educational system is a unique type of civic and moral education. Since it was first proposed by the late president Chiang Kai-shek in 1953, civic and moral education has become the fixture of the educational system that has undergone the least change. Although many of its attendant activities are non-formal, civic and moral education is taught by accredited teachers through an established battery of formal courses. "Life and Ethics" is the first course in the compulsory curriculum, "Civics and Morality" is the second stage; and a class simply called "Civics" is offered at the senior secondary level. The goal of civic and moral education is to develop a citizenry that wholly subscribes to a set of principles for ethical living based on the teachings of Confucius. These principles include respect for parents, loyalty to the family and the state, and deference to authority. A concomitant goal of civic and moral education is to develop a patriotic citizenry that is vigilant in maintaining Taiwan's national defense.
Foreign Influences on Educational System: From its inception as a modern entity under the stewardship of Japan, Taiwan's educational system has conducted extensive academic exchanges with foreign institutions. Since 1945, the United States has overwhelmingly been the favorite destination of Taiwanese exchange students. In the 1998-1999 academic year, 31,043 Taiwan nationals were studying in the United States, which accounted for just over half of the total of 61,257 overseas students. However, during the 1999-2000 academic year, the number of Taiwanese students studying in the United States fell to 29,234, a drop of six percent. Moreover, this figure represents a drop of 22.2 percent from the peak year of 1993-1994, when 37,581 Taiwan students enrolled at 921 accredited colleges and universities across the United States. The MOE's Bureau of International Cultural and Education Relations attributes this decline directly to a combination of more students opting to pursue graduate studies in Taiwan and the growing popularity of studying in nations other than the United States. The leaders among this competition for Taiwanese students are Great Britain, Australia, Germany, and France, and this emerging trend of study abroad in countries other than the United States is expected to continue.
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