The educational system in Taiwan is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China (commonly known as "Taiwan"). The system produces pupils with some of the highest test scores in the world, especially in mathematics and science. It has been criticised for placing excessive pressure on students and eschewing creativity in favour of rote memorization. Recent educational reforms intended to address these criticisms are a topic of intense debate in Taiwan.
Although current law mandates only nine years of schooling, 95% of students go on to high school, trade school or college.
The literacy rate in 2003 was 96.1%.
The public education system in Taiwan spans nursery schools through university. Public education has been compulsory from primary school through junior high school since 1968. In 2001 roughly 16% of the central budget was spent on education.
Access to high school and university is controlled by a series of national exams. Discipline in public schools of all levels is generally very tight with school uniforms and morning reveille being the norm. Students of all levels through high school are responsible for cleaning their own classrooms and areas around the school, cleanup time being a daily ritual. Corporal punishment is officially banned, but many reports suggest it is still practiced by many teachers, due in no small part to the fact that most parents support it.
The school year consists of two semesters. The fall semester begins in early September and runs till late January or early February. Winter vacation typically runs from two to three weeks around the Lunar New Year. Spring semester begins following the Lantern Festival in mid February and ends in early June. From middle school on, many schools hold "optional supplementary classes" during winter and summer vacation as well as after normal school hours. Despite the name, in many cases participation is compulsory. The language of instruction is Mandarin.
Elementary schools span grades 1 through 6, classes are held from Monday through Friday, typically from 7:30 AM through 4PM (or noon on Wednesdays). Subjects include:
- Mandarin: The official language of instruction.
- Mathematics: Mathematics education begins with the basics and reaches introductory algebra and geometry by the 6th grade.
- Science: Comprehensive science classes covering basic biology, physics, and chemistry.
- English: English is a compulsory subject within the mainstream school system from Grade 3 Elementary School and up.
- Native languages: Additional language classes in Taiwanese and Hakka are offered.
- Social studies
- Physical education
Like middle schools, students are typically assigned to the elementary school closest to their registered place of residence. This leads some parents to file their children's household registration with other relatives or friends for the purpose of sending their children to what are perceived as better schools.
Junior high school
Junior high school spans grades 7 through 9 and is the last half of compulsory education. Unlike the slower pace of elementary school, junior high students typically have a single goal in life: to score high on the national senior high school entrance exams at the end of 9th grade. Consequently, the pressure on students from teachers and parents is intense. Though instruction officially ends around 4PM, students often stay in school till as late as 8 or 9PM for "extra classes" (which typically consist of extra quizzes and review).
Subject matter covered includes:
- Literature: Classical and modern Chinese literature and poetry, composition and public speaking.
- Mathematics: Covers single and two variable algebra, geometry, proofs, trigonometry, and pre-calculus.
- Biology: Taken during first year, includes more in depth studies and lab work.
- Physics and Chemistry: Taken during second and third year. More rigorous introduction to physical laws and equations, includes lab work.
- Civics & Moral values
- History: Focus on the history of Taiwan, Mainland China and East Asia, also includes world history.
- Geography: Geography of Taiwan, Mainland China, and the world.
- Physical education
- Home economics & crafts
- Scout education: Outdoor survival skills.
At the end of their third year, students participate in the national senior high school entrance exams and are assigned to senior high schools based upon their scores. Students may also participate in a separate national vocational school entrance exam if they wish to attend vocational school. In both cases, public schools are usually the most popular while private schools have traditionally been viewed as a backup for those unable to score high enough for public schools.
Roughly 94.7% of junior high school students continue on to senior high or vocational school.
Senior high school
Senior high school spans grades 10 through 12, again the main goal of students is to score highly on the national university entrance exams at the end of their third year. The pace is just as, if not more intense than junior high school.
Discipline in educational institutions from high school and up (including vocational schools) are the responsibility of military officers stationed at the individual schools (as opposed to elementary and junior high school where teachers and school administrators were responsible for discipline). In addition to the normal subjects, students are also required to attend a military education class covering issues such as civil defense, military drills, national defense, and basic firearms training. In the past, high (and vocational) school students were expected to take on civil defense duties in the event of national emergency.
In many high schools incoming students may select science or liberal arts tracks depending on where their interests lie. The different learning tracks are commonly referred to as groups. Group I consists of liberal arts students, Group II and Group III of science based students (the latter studies biology as an additional subject). Science based curriculum consists of more rigorous science and mathematics classes intended to prepare the student for a career in the sciences and engineering; the liberal arts track places a heavier emphasis on literature and social studies to prepare students for a future in those fields.
Entrance to university is administered via two methods: Recommendations or Examination. For those that participate in recommendations, they have to take a national academic exam and selecting a list of majors that they are applying to. The first stage is a screening of exam results for eligibility, the second stage would be dependent on the conditions of individual departments selected. For those that did not choose to take the recommendations process, or failed their applications, they have the choice to participate in the national university entrance exams after graduation in hopes of university admission.
Vocational schools are three-year institutions kind of the same to normal high schools. Unlike normal high schools, they place a heavier emphasis on practical and vocational skills. Incoming students typically choose a single concentration, such as electrical engineering, civil engineering, computer science or business. Some specialized vocational schools also offer programs in seamanship
. Vocational school graduates may also participate in the national university entrance exams. It is not uncommon for students to select vocational school over high school and proceed to a four year college afterwards.
See also: List of universities in Taiwan
There are over 100 institutions of higher education in Taiwan. Roughly 66.6% of the over 100,000 students taking the national university entrance exams are accepted to a higher educational institution. Since the 1990s many trade schools and junior colleges have been "promoted" to university status, which can account for the high university entrance rates.
Nonetheless a high score is desired as admission to the most prestigious institutions (such as National Taiwan University) is still highly selective.
Taiwan has many universities, both public and private. Traditionally, public schools are viewed as being more prestigious than private schools. The logic for this is because private schools were originally seen as schools that catered to those students who did not gain acceptance to the public schools such as National Taiwan University, and that charged these students' parents (usually of reasonable affluence) money in order for the children to at least gain college education of some sort.
Some of the public schools departments are no longer better than the private schools, as there is an imbalance in the support they receive for the school development policy. Nowadays private schools are strongly supported by the College Council, which consists of prosperous commercial groups or religious bodies. Most private schools have established their own academic field in specific department or area of specialty. Presently, students will apply for the schools that have higher academic achievement in their chosen field.
is extremely popular and engineering degrees account for over a quarter of the bachelor degrees awarded in Taiwan. Popular majors include: electrical engineering
(traditionally the most selective, and most prestigious).
Some of the most highly regarded universities in Taiwan include:
- National Taiwan University: The most famous and comprehensive university in Taiwan.
- National Taiwan Normal University: Prestigious in its education, fine arts, liberal arts, music, and natural science programs. It is the leading institute in teacher training, and is best known internationally by its Mandarin Training Center.
- National Tsing Hua University: Prestigious in sciences and engineering, such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, materials science and engineering, chemical engineering, industrial engineering, nuclear engineering, also reputed in electrical engineering, computer science, linguistics and history in recent years. Had a reputation as "male-dominant" school in the past.
- National Chiao Tung University: Prestigious in electrical engineering, computer science, and management science. Neighboring the IT-driven Hsinchu Science Park. Has a long-standing rivalry with NTHU since the inception of both schools. Also had a reputation as "male-dominant" school in the past.
- National Cheng Kung University: Prestigious in engineering, medicine, management programs. One of only two universities in Taiwan that offer an aerospace engineering program.
- National Chengchi University: Famous in management and the premiere and most prestigious School of Communication in Taiwan
- National Taipei University: Famous in law, business, public administration and social science.
- National Central University: Famous in Center for the Space and Remote Sensing Research.
- National Chung Hsing University: Famous in agriculture and biology.
In contrast with junior high and high school, where students are pressured by the highly selective entrance exams, college life in Taiwan is generally seen as being rather relaxed. Graduate degrees from the U.S. and Europe are also highly prized with many students applying to foreign graduate schools after completing university (though the number has declined somewhat in recent years). An average of 13000 university graduates per year choose to pursue graduate studies in the U.S..
in Taiwan begins as an undergraduate major and lasts seven years (six years for dentistry
), with the final year being hands on training at a teaching hospital
. Graduates of medical school may elect to continue on to graduate school to pursue a doctoral degree.
Law school (College of Law)
Like medicine, law school is selected as an undergraduate major and lasts four years.
Most higher educational institutions offering programs in education. Such programs run four years, in addition to a half-year internship, with students receiving teaching credentials at the end of the program. While currently education programs are available in most institutes of tertiary education, prospective teachers typically go to a "university of education" if they want to teach primary school, and a "normal university" for secondary school. One exception is National Changhua University of Education, which, like normal universities, is renowned for its dedication to culitivating secondary school teachers.
Taiwan offers four types of technical institutes each targeted at a specific age group.
5 year junior colleges
Students enter five-year junior colleges after graduating junior high school and passing a national exam. The curriculum is similar to that of vocational schools with the exception that 5 year junior colleges run for two additional years. Students graduate with the equivalent of an associate degree and are ready to enter the workforce. Some students may choose to continue their studies at a two year technical institute or apply to transfer into a four year university.
2 year junior colleges
Two-year junior colleges offer advanced vocational training for graduates of vocational or senior high schools. Students graduate with an associates degree and may continue on to a 2 year technical institute, transfer to a four year university, or enter the workforce.
2 year technical institutes
Two year technical institutes offer vocational training for graduates of 2 year technical colleges.
4 year technical institutes
4 year technical institutes typically accept senior high and vocational school graduates, and offer in depth job and vocational training.
Private educational institutions are pervasive in Taiwan ranging from private schools at all levels to supplementary cram schools
With the intense pressure placed on students to achieve by parents, many students enroll in private after-school classes intended to supplement their regular education. These cram schools are an extremely large (and profitable) business in Taiwan and have been criticized by some as being the result of cultural overemphasis on academic achievement. Popular subjects in cram schools include English
, and the natural sciences
. Test prep classes are also popular amongst junior and senior high school students.
Classes are generally very orderly and controlled, with class sizes as high as 200 or so students in some famous institutions. The quality of cram schools varies considerably. Some of the larger schools and chains write their own programs and produce their own textbooks.
Kindergartens and preschool
While many public kindergartens and preschools exist in Taiwan, private kindergartens and preschools are also quite popular. Many private preschools offer accelerated courses in various subjects to compete with public preschools and capitalize on public demand for academic achievement. Curriculum at such preschools often encompasses subject material such as science
, physical education
and even mathematics
classes. The majority of these schools are part of large school chains, which operate under franchise
arrangements. In return for annual fees, the chain enterprises may supply advertising, curriculum, books, materials, training, and even staff for each individual school.
There has been a huge growth in the number of privately owned and operated English immersion preschools in Taiwan since 1999. These English immersion preschools generally employ native English speaking teachers to teach the whole preschool curriculum in an ‘English only’ environment. The legality of these types of schools has been called into question on many occasions, yet they continue to prosper. Some members of Taiwanese society have raised concerns as to whether local children should be placed in English immersion environments at such a young age, and have raised fears that the students abilities in their mother language may suffer as a result. The debate continues, but at the present time, the market for English Immersion Preschools continues to grow.