Center on International Education Benchmarking

An island of 23.4 million people, Taiwan is heavily influenced by its relationship with China. Currently, the mainland People’s Republic of China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, while Taiwan claims sovereignty over the entire mainland. The controversy has a long history. When Mao assumed power over mainland China (renaming it the People’s Republic of China), the deposed government established a new seat of power in Taiwan in 1949. The Nationalist Party ruled Taiwan as a single-party state for forty years, until democratic reforms led to the first-ever direct presidential election in 1996. To this day, the United Nations and many countries do not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. But if the island’s identity and political structure have been controversial, its growing economic importance, including its booming tech industry, and especially its impressive education system, cannot be questioned.

Taiwan performs among the best in the world on international comparisons of student performance. In 2006, when Taiwan first participated in PISA, it ranked first out of all participating countries in mathematics, fourth in science, and 16th in reading. In 2015, Taiwan maintained its high performance in math and science but performance on reading has fallen even further behind. Taiwan ranked fourth in math and science, and 23rd in reading.

Since the 1990s, the Ministry of Education has been steadily reforming the Taiwanese education system. Initial reforms focused on ensuring all students have access to a high-quality education while more recent reforms aim to develop teacher capacity to foster the critical thinking and literacy skills necessary in a fast-changing global economy. The recent reforms are part of Taiwan’s response to criticism of its system focusing too heavily on exams that require rote memorization rather than creative application of knowledge. Taiwan’s evolution over the past 30 years is a case study of a system continually striving to improve.

Population

23,508,428

Ethnic Makeup

Han Chinese more than 95%, Indigenous Malayo-Polynesian peoples 2%

GDP

$1.132 trillion; $48,100 per Capita

Major Industries

Services: 63.2%; Industry: 35%; Agriculture: 1.8%

Employment

Unemployment: 4% ; Youth Unemployment: 12.41%

Educational Attainment

Upper Secondary School Graduation Rate: 88%

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