Taiwan has struggled with ensuring equity for all students. Disadvantaged students in Taiwan do comparatively well on PISA: Taiwan has one of the lowest percentages of students who score at the bottom of PISA among all countries and has one of the highest rates of students from low socioeconomic status scoring at the highest levels. Still, socioeconomic status is a key determinant of performance on PISA, with a rate of performance variance explained by SES higher than the average among OECD nations in both 2012 and 2015. Recognizing this, Taiwan has put in place a range of supports for economically disadvantaged children aimed at equalizing opportunities.
Supports for Pre-Compulsory School Age Children and Their Families
Since 2011, the government has fully subsidized preschool tuition for five-year-olds in all public and some private programs. There are additional grants for children from low-income families to cover services like extended day programs. There is also an effort now to offer the fee waivers to 3- and 4-year olds from low-income families as well. Five-year olds are given priority over younger students for admission in public preschools, and spaces are allocated based on factors such as economic disadvantage, special needs, and proximity to home. The Ministry of Education has also committed to expanding the number of nonprofit and public preschool places to reach more children in remote areas, and to enroll 60 percent of all 2- to 5-year old children by 2020.
Supports for At-Risk Students
The national government has long provided additional resources for at-risk students. The Education Priority Area Plan was introduced in 1996 and funded supports such as subsidies, transportation, facilities, and parent education to schools with significant populations of disadvantaged children or in remote locations. In 2013, the Education Priority Area Plan was replaced by the Elementary/Junior High School Remedial Education Implementation Project, which expanded support to include afterschool and summer tutoring for disadvantaged students. Another initiative is the Remote District School Education Development Act, which seeks to improve teacher retention and student learning in remote districts where educational outcomes often lag behind those in cities.
In 2014, the Ministry also waived upper secondary school tuition for low-income students. Taiwan also allows schools to accept private donations from business or individuals earmarked for economically disadvantaged students and their families, with a goal of preventing students from leaving school for financial reasons. These are called School Education Savings Accounts and exist at almost one-third of schools. In 2016, the government announced the creation of Children’s Education Accounts for children from low-income families. Parents who deposit up to US$491 each year receive matching government subsidies until children reach age 18, for a potential account of US$17,677. Children can then use these funds for higher education tuition or business start-up costs.
Supports for Struggling Students
There are also special programs to identify students in need of academic support. The After-School Alternative Program, introduced in 2006, was created to provide after-school tutoring to academically low-achieving students. In 2013, the program became part of the Elementary/Junior High School Remedial Education Implementation Project, which provides support for struggling students who are not already served by targeted programs for disadvantaged populations. Participants are eligible based on their score on an online screening test, which is administered only to students who have shown low performance in Chinese, English, and mathematics on school-based assessments. Instructors must complete a special training, which is eight hours for teachers and retired teachers and 18 hours for university students or graduates with relevant academic background or experience. As of 2014, the program served about 15 percent of students.
Taiwan has significantly increased funding to the special education system over the past decade. Special education funding covers both students with disabilities and gifted students, although over 90 percent of the funding supports students with disabilities. The Special Education Act specifies that the central government must not spend less than 3 percent of the current year’s funding on special education and the local governments must spend at least 5 percent of the current year’s spending on that program. In 2016, this amounted to US$337 million from the central government and US$779 million from local governments. As of 2016, approximately 4 percent of students in preschool and compulsory education were identified as disabled and needing special education services. Ninety-four percent of these students are mainstreamed and attend schools with their peers, but 6 percent are served in specialized settings, some of which are run by private organizations but receive public funding. Special education students are first identified during preschool (ages 2-5), to allow for early intervention by parents and support professionals. To aid schools in the assessment and teaching of students with disabilities, the Ministry of Education directly subsidizes city/county special education resource centers.