In Taiwan, preschools—of which about one-third are public and two-thirds private—provide early childhood education for children ages 3 to 5. Preschool is not compulsory, but public preschools have been free for all low- and middle-income 5-year-olds since 2011 and for younger children since 2019. Enrollment of 5-year-olds has been climbing steadily and is currently over 90 percent. The enrollment rate of all children ages 3 to 5 has also more than doubled, reaching more than two-thirds of children. Slots in the public preschools are prioritized for students with special needs and low-income students.
As part of Taiwan’s effort to support families with young children, in 2018 the government announced a plan for the largest government investment in preschool in Taiwan’s history. First, the government will increase the number of slots in public preschools by nearly 50 percent by 2024. Second, the government has created a new system of subsidized private preschools, which are private preschools that agree to charge lower tuition and meet government quality benchmarks in exchange for government subsidies. About 40 percent of private preschools have joined this government subsidy program, and the government aims to expand this to 70 percent by 2024.
Taiwan’s current jurisdiction-level preschool curriculum, the Curriculum Guidelines for Early Childhood Education and Care, was drafted in 2011 and finalized in 2016. Required for public preschools, it sets year-by-year learning and development goals for children in six broad areas: physical education and health; cognitive development; language; social development; emotional development; and arts.,
Preschools are evaluated by local Education Bureaus every three to five years and must meet standards to remain certified and continue to receive subsidies. Although the Ministry of Education has issued its own guidelines for evaluations, in practice they vary widely. The general focus is on the quality of the administration, curriculum, and facilities. Programs that are rated highly can receive monetary rewards; underperforming preschools must make improvements and undergo a subsequent evaluation in six months.
Primary and Secondary Education
Compulsory education starts at age 6. Since 1968, it has included six years of primary school and three years of lower secondary school. In 2014, the government began to phase in a 12-year Basic Education curriculum, which made upper secondary school compulsory for all students.
Taiwan has three-year academic and vocational upper secondary schools as well as some comprehensive schools offering programs in both areas. As of 2020, about 5 percent of students attended comprehensive schools with the rest equally divided between the academic and vocational schools. Students are able to switch from one type of school to another. Students take an assessment called the Comprehensive Assessment Program (CAP) at the end of lower secondary school which is used for admission to upper secondary school. As part of the 12-Year Basic Education reforms, Taiwan introduced open admission to highly selective upper secondary academic school in an effort to combat socioeconomic inequity and increase access to higher education. In addition to upper secondary schools, there is also a five-year junior college option that offers more specialized programs and leads to an associate degree, typically in technical areas.
After upper secondary school, students from both academic and vocational schools can either take an entrance exam for university or a technical and vocational college entrance exam to study at junior colleges, technical colleges, or universities of science and technology. In 2019, 93 percent of academic upper secondary school graduates and 80 percent of vocational upper secondary school graduates continued to an institution of higher education.
Standards and Curriculum
When compulsory education began in Taiwan in 1968, curriculum was highly centralized and teaching was tightly scripted. Once Taiwan began to democratize politically in the mid-1980s, the central government eased control over schools. In 2000, Taiwan decentralized its school curriculum and textbooks and set central curriculum guidelines in key subject domains, known as Learning Areas, for primary and lower secondary schools. The guidelines also introduced a set of competencies that students should develop alongside academic knowledge, aiming to shift emphasis away from rote academic learning and toward competency development.
In 2014, the government developed new curriculum guidelines for 12-Year Basic Education, creating one integrated curriculum for primary and secondary school for the first time. The goal of these guidelines is to provide a cohesive educational experience throughout primary and secondary school that is responsive to students’ individual learning needs, prioritizes holistic student development, and prepares students with a common foundation of skills. The guidelines were also intended to address concerns that Taiwan performed relatively poorly in reading on PISA compared with mathematics and science, and that the country’s schools remained overly test-driven despite curriculum reforms. The new curriculum was phased in over time and fully implemented in the 2019-2020 school year.
As with the prior curriculum, the 12-Year Basic Education curriculum sets general guidelines, allowing local schools to develop their own curricula to meet local needs. To do this, each school is required to form a curriculum development committee made up of school community members, including teachers, school leaders, and representatives of teacher organizations and parent associations. The central curriculum identifies three categories of core competencies—adaptability and creativity; social participation; and communication and interaction—each of which includes three specific competencies students should develop, such as “information and technology literacy and media literacy” or “cultural and global understanding.” These competencies are integrated into subject curricula and are expected to guide the development of school curricula and assessments.
Ministry-required courses for primary and secondary school students are organized into eight Learning Areas: language arts; mathematics; social studies; natural sciences; arts; technology; health and physical education; and integrative activities, which are activities that encourage reflection on the learning process and real-world applications. Each of these Learning Areas includes one or more subjects or courses that students must take, depending on grade level. In addition to these required courses, schools must develop local courses that meet the needs of their student body, which can include cross-curricular courses, club activities, and elective courses. In primary schools, about 10 to 30 percent of instructional time is reserved for school-developed courses, depending on grade level. At the lower secondary level, about 10 to 20 percent of time is reserved for these courses.
Upper secondary school is organized on a credit basis. Students must earn 180 credits to graduate. The number of credits awarded from Ministry-required courses and from school-developed and elective courses varies, depending on the type of upper secondary school (general academic, vocational, or comprehensive). In academic (non-comprehensive) upper secondary schools, the Ministry-required courses are Mandarin; English; mathematics; history; geography; civics and society; physics; chemistry; biology; earth sciences; music; fine arts; arts and life; life education; career planning; home economics; living technology; information technology; health and nursing; physical education; and national defense education. School-developed courses and elective courses make up more than one-third of instructional time, with the vast majority of that time devoted to electives.
Assessment and Qualifications
There are no required jurisdiction-wide assessments in primary school. Students are awarded the primary school diploma at the end of their six years in primary school based on teacher and school assessments.
The first jurisdiction-wide assessment students take is administered in the final year of lower secondary school (grade 9) when all students participate in the Comprehensive Assessment Program (CAP). This exam has been in use since 2014, when it replaced the Basic Competence Test (BCT). The BCT functioned primarily as an entrance exam to upper secondary school, and only about 60 percent of students passed this exam and were able to continue their education. The CAP was introduced as part of an effort to open access to upper secondary school for more students. It differs from the BCT in that it is a test of mastery of the lower secondary curriculum rather than a competitive entrance exam for upper secondary school. All students take the CAP now, no matter what type of upper secondary school they plan to attend.
The CAP is a multiple-choice exam, with a supplementary exam for composition. It tests mastery in Chinese, English (including a listening exam), mathematics, social studies, and the natural sciences. Throughout lower secondary school, students take three “pacing tests” to prepare them for the CAP. The CAP is one of multiple criteria considered when students apply to either vocational or academic upper secondary schools.
Each school district must admit at least 85 percent of upper secondary school students through open admissions, meaning that all applicants to a school are admitted if there are enough spaces. If there are more applicants than spaces, admission is based on criteria set at the district level, which can include CAP scores and additional factors like academic performance or extracurricular activities. However, unlike in the past, when students were ranked on a percentile basis from 1 to 99, scores on the CAP now indicate only whether a student is “highly competent,” “competent,” or “not competent.”
Students who graduate from academic and comprehensive upper secondary schools are awarded a Leaving Certificate (diploma). They do not need to pass an exam to graduate, but if they want to apply to university, they must take the General Scholastic Ability Test (GSAT). The GSAT includes 100-minute tests of Chinese, English, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences; all are multiple-choice except for essay writing and translation components in Chinese and English. In addition, students applying to universities take Advanced Subjects Tests (AST), which assess specialized knowledge in different disciplines. There are 10 subject tests available; as of 2019, students take only the tests required for the areas of study they plan to pursue, as students in Taiwan study a specific subject at the university level. The scores are reported by subject. Before 2019, students were required to take five tests and report a composite score to universities. The tests include multiple-choice questions, short answer questions, problem-solving, essay writing, and translations.
Universities have expanded their admission criteria over the last two decades, and most now use interviews and teacher recommendations or university-designed subject tests, in addition to the results of the GSAT and AST.
Vocational upper secondary schools have more flexibility in admissions, so requirements vary by school and may include a practical examination. Vocational students graduate with a Vocational School Certificate of Graduation (diploma). Those who want to continue their vocational studies take the Technological and Vocational Education Joint College Entrance Examination. If they want to pursue academic studies at university, they take the GSAT, but only about 5 percent of vocational school graduates pursue this route.
After the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) found that Taiwan had the highest proportion of low-performing students among top-performing nations, the Ministry of Education and the National Science Council created the After-School Alternative Program. The program was designed 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. In an effort to encourage local governments and schools to participate in the program, the Ministry annually issues monetary awards to outstanding teacher teams.
To support students with special needs, Taiwan has significantly increased funding to the special education system over the past decade. Special education funding covers both students with physical and learning 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 4.5 percent of the current year’s education funding on special education, and local governments not less than 5 percent. As of 2019-20, approximately 5 percent of students in primary and secondary education received special education services. Ninety-four percent of these students attend general education schools with their peers, but 6 percent—primarily severely impaired and multiply impaired students—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 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 local special education resource centers. Gifted students are offered special classes and access to resources and special programs designed to enhance their learning.
Digital Platforms and Resources
The Ministry of Education launched a major e-learning initiative in 2013. As part of that effort, the Ministry expanded wireless capability in schools so that students in every school would be able to use broadband networks on campus. In addition, the Ministry created EduCloud, a repository of online resources and tools developed by the Ministry, local governments, and educational organizations. The Ministry expanded EduCloud to serve students during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.