An island of 23.8 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 considers itself independent from China. But if the island’s identity and political structure have been controversial, its growing economic importance, including its booming technology industry and especially its impressive education system, cannot be questioned.

Taiwan ranks among the best in the world on international comparisons of student performance. Taiwan first participated in PISA in 2006, performing near the top among all participating countries in mathematics and science, and slightly lower in reading. Taiwan has continued to perform well since then.  Student scores in reading have improved significantly but continue to lag behind mathematics and science. Taiwan has also made progress on equity: variation in scores among schools (particularly rural and urban) has steadily declined.  However, socioeconomic status continues to impact academic performance, with its impact on reading scores only slightly better than the OECD average in the 2018 PISA.

Following the Japanese occupation and World War II, Taiwan’s education system was highly centralized and focused on vocational skills and Chinese language and culture. Starting in the 1990s, the Ministry of Education began a steady process of reform, decentralizing authority from the central government and expanding access to education. Reforms included allowing schools and teachers to develop their own teaching materials or choose textbooks by private publishers in addition to Ministry-developed texts, and reducing required curriculum content to allow more time for individualized instruction.

Since 2010, reform has focused on extending basic education from nine to 12 years and introducing a new curriculum. The 12-Year Basic Education Curriculum, which was implemented starting in 2014, aims to increase access to high-quality upper secondary education for all students by reducing the role of exams in admission to upper secondary schools, eliminating tuition fees, and distributing resources more evenly across schools. Taiwan also introduced a new curriculum designed to promote holistic student development with a focus on three areas: adaptability and creativity; communication and interaction; and social participation. During the rollout of the new curriculum, from 2018 through 2020, the Ministry updated teaching and learning resources aligned to the new curriculum and supported professional development to ensure teachers’ capacity to teach it.

Today, all students in Taiwan complete 12 years of primary and secondary education. The share of students who continue to postsecondary education is also very high, at over 80 percent. However, university leaders and employers have expressed concern that the emphasis on admission to university has come at the expense of creative and critical thinking skills, without which students struggle in college and, later, in the workforce. It remains to be seen whether the new curriculum, with its explicit emphasis on innovation and adaptation, will address this challenge. Taiwan is also contending with a shrinking student and overall population and an over-supply of university graduates, leading to rising youth unemployment and a shortage of workers with the technical skills employers need. Buxibans, supplemental private tutoring centers, also continue to enroll many secondary school students who are focused on doing well on university entrance exams.

Quick Facts

Population: 23.6 million
Population growth rate: 0.03%
Demographic makeup: Han Chinese 95%+, Indigenous Malayo-Polynesian peoples 2.3%
Source: CIA World Factbook, 2023

GDP: $1.143 trillion
GDP per capita: $47,800(2021 estimate in 2017 dollars)
Source: CIA World Factbook, 2023

Unemployment rate: 3.73%
Source: CIA World Factbook 2023

Services-dominated economy
Key services industries: communications and information technology products
Key industrial areas: electronics, petroleum refining, chemicals, textiles, iron and steel, machinery, cement, food processing, vehicles, consumer products, pharmaceuticals

Sources: CIA World Factbook 2023

Postsecondary attainment
Ages 15+: 46.5%


Governance Structure

The Ministry of Education sets policy governing public and private sector primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools; early childhood education (as of 2012); teacher recruitment, preparation, and training; school funding; and assessments. A separate ministry, the Department of Higher Education, oversees higher education. The 22 local governments of Taiwan each have Bureaus of Education responsible for implementing Ministry of Education policies at the local level. 

Public schools in Taiwan include schools run by the central Ministry, and local schools, which are run by Taiwan’s local Bureaus of Education. The Ministry also provides funding to private schools, which follow the same requirements for curriculum and admission policies as public schools in exchange for these government subsidies. At the primary and lower secondary levels, only 10 percent of schools are private; the rest are local public schools. At the upper secondary level, more than 40 percent of schools are private, with the remaining public schools about evenly split between Ministry and local oversight. 

Planning and Goal Setting

Each year, the Ministry of Education releases a set of objectives for that calendar year. These are used to guide educational improvement initiatives from early childhood to higher education and workforce preparedness. The documents are brief, summarizing high-level policy objectives and learning goals.

The Ministry’s policy objectives for 2021 include prioritizing educational equity for vulnerable students (including students living in rural regions and socioeconomically disadvantaged students), and continuing to refine implementation of the new 12-Year Basic Education curriculum. The Ministry also plans to expand access to affordable early childhood education and care and improve the practical training facilities of post-secondary vocational education and training providers. 

Education Finance

The Executive Yuan, Taiwan’s governing body, designates funding for education from its budget; in turn, the Ministry of Education allocates that funding to local governments. The Education Funding Committee of the Executive Yuan calculates how much each local government will need to spend on education and how much it can contribute to that amount, and the central government contributes the rest. Funding from the central government is distributed in two categories: general education funds, which can be spent flexibly, and special education funds, which must be spent for specific purposes related to special education (primarily for students with identified disabilities, and also for gifted students). Schools are responsible for submitting mid- and long-term plans to local Bureaus of Education for development of school-level budgets.

A 2016 law increased the share of Taiwan’s total budget allocated to education from 22.5 percent to 23 percent, or about 5 percent of GDP. About a third of the education budget goes to higher education. Of the primary and secondary school share, the vast majority goes to public schools, with about 10 percent designated for private schools. Prior to 2014, both public and private upper secondary schools charged tuition, but fees were eliminated for all students and schools in 2014 as part of the 12-Year Basic Education reform. Both central and local governments provide additional subsidies for education in remote areas.


School Accountability

In Taiwan, school inspection is the major form of school accountability. At the primary and lower secondary levels, local governments determine whether and how to conduct school inspections. At the upper secondary level, regular school self-evaluation and external school inspections are required by law, but the Ministry of Education does not specify frequency. Schools design their own self-evaluation processes, and the school’s operating body—either the central Ministry of Education, local Bureau of Education, or a private operator, depending on the type of school—designs the external school inspection process and intervenes with schools designated as low-performing. This emphasis on accountability for upper secondary schools can be traced to the relatively new policy of extending basic education through the upper secondary level. Taiwan’s government is focused on helping ensure that all students have access to high-quality upper secondary school options.

Under a program known as the School Actualization Program (SAP), upper secondary schools can apply to receive additional funds for school improvement. Following approval by a Ministry-appointed committee, schools are assigned an on-site coaching group made up of a university professor and an experienced principal who coach the school’s leaders for one year. The Ministry conducts a follow-up assessment the following year. As of 2016, more than 60 percent of all general upper secondary schools in Taiwan participated in SAP.

Educator Accountability 

Taiwan requires annual evaluation of teachers and principals in primary and secondary schools, and the Ministry of Education has set requirements for these evaluations. Teacher evaluations focus on five areas—teaching, training, service, morality, and administrative record—and are conducted by an evaluation committee made up of school staff members chosen by teachers. Evaluation results are used to determine salary grades and to award bonus pay. To enhance the utility of the evaluation process for professional learning, in 2006 the government introduced a voluntary Teacher Evaluation for Professional Development Program, with the Ministry providing resources and guidance to schools on growth-oriented teacher evaluation. The tools provided include protocols for teacher observation, student feedback forms, guides for peer mentoring, and agendas for professional learning communities. Teachers are encouraged to observe one another, write up feedback, and co-develop plans for improvement, as well as meet in large school groups to discuss how evaluation can be used as a tool for improvement. Only about 30 percent of schools and 20 percent of teachers are currently participating in this teacher evaluation project. The Ministry plans to revise these tools to incentivize broader and deeper participation—and track who is using these systems and the fidelity of implementation.

Foundation of Supports

Supports for Young Children and Their Families

Taiwan provides extensive supports for young children and families, partially aimed at reversing a steep decline in its birthrate. Recent reforms have extended these policies in response to growing concerns about the continued decline. Taiwan requires that employers provide eight weeks of paid maternity leave, and fathers can receive three days of paternity leave. Parents can also take up to two years of parental leave at 60 percent of salary until their child turns three. The share of fathers taking leave, while small, has increased during the past decade, and fathers made up about one-fifth of all applicants for parental leave as of 2018. Taiwan’s National Health Insurance System, available to all citizens, covers medical visits related to childbirth and health care for children up to age 3. 

Until children reach age four, families receive an income- and age-based monthly child allowance. When the allowance was first introduced in 2012, one parent needed to stay home to care for the child in order to qualify, and it only covered children up to age two. In 2018, the home care requirement was eliminated, and the program expanded to include children up to age four. This change more than tripled the number of eligible children. In 2020, Taiwan began to cover children up to age six. In 2022, Taiwan added more financial benefits for families, including raising its one-time payment for parents, increasing child-rearing allowances, lowering the tuition fee cap for preschools, and launching a new rent subsidy fund for households with children. 

In 2018, the government introduced a series of policy measures designed to make childcare for children up to age 2 more affordable for families. The government pledged to nearly double the share of public childcare centers, which typically charge the lowest fees, by 2022. It also began providing subsidies to private childcare centers that meet quality benchmarks in return for a commitment to cap fees for families. Finally, it expanded families’ eligibility for childcare subsidies by replacing a set of specific eligibility criteria with a sliding scale of income-based subsidies.  

Supports for School Aged Children

While its share of students performing at the lowest levels on PISA is less than the OECD average, Taiwan is still concerned that socioeconomic status is a key determinant of performance.  In response, Taiwan has put in place supports for disadvantaged students, which it has expanded over time. These supports have particularly focused on students in rural and remote areas, where educational outcomes often lag behind those in cities.

The Education Priority Area Plan, introduced in 1996, provided funding for subsidies, transportation, facilities, and parent education to schools in remote locations or with significant populations of disadvantaged children. In 2013, the Education Priority Area Plan was replaced by the Elementary/Junior High School Remedial Education Implementation Project, which expanded support to include after-school and summer tutoring for disadvantaged students. Recent initiatives, like the 2017 Act for Education Development of Schools in Remote Areas, seek to improve teacher retention and student learning in remote districts—for example, by providing subsidies from the central government for priorities like professional learning for teachers and access to transportation and health care services for students.

Taiwan also provides targeted support for Indigenous students. Indigenous groups make up about 2 percent of the population in Taiwan. The Education Act for Indigenous Peoples, which has been in effect for more than two decades, requires governments at all levels to ensure Indigenous students have equal access to education that meets their needs. Specific measures include requiring collaboration with Indigenous communities in designing and implementing education for Indigenous students, earmarking a share of the central education budget specifically for the education of Indigenous students, and promoting the use of Indigenous languages and teaching methods in schools. 

In 2014, the Ministry waived upper secondary school tuition for all students in both public and private schools as part of extending basic education. The government provides grants and loans to cover remaining educational expenses, such as textbook fees, based on need. Taiwan also allows schools to accept private donations from businesses or individuals earmarked for economically disadvantaged students and their families, with a goal of preventing students from leaving school for financial reasons. These School Education Savings Accounts exist at almost one-third of schools, including both public and private schools. In 2016, the government announced the creation of Savings Accounts for the Education of Children and Teenagers, specifically for children from low-income families. Parents who deposit funds each year receive matching government subsidies until children reach age 18. Children can then use these funds for higher education tuition or business start-up costs.

Learning System


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

System Structure

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. 

Learning Supports 

Struggling Students

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. 

Special Education

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.

Career and Technical Education

Development of the System

Taiwan’s CTE system was established in the 1950s through a partnership between the United States and Taiwanese governments known as the Industrial Vocational Education Cooperative Project, which aimed to review and update Taiwan’s vocational education and training system, at the time focused on preparing entry-level workers in agriculture and labor-intensive production industries. The goal was to develop a system that would support economic growth in Taiwan’s emerging industries, including in the technology sector, which became a major focus in the 1970s and 1980s. Reforms included introducing university-based preparation programs specifically for vocational upper secondary school teachers and piloting a new vocational curriculum at a select set of schools. 

Over the past decade, the Taiwanese government has continued to update its CTE system to prepare students for work in an increasingly technology-driven economy. In 2009, Taiwan identified the following industry clusters as key to its future:

  • Six Emerging Industries: healthcare, bio-technology, sophisticated agriculture, leisure and tourism, cultural innovation, and green energy
  • Four Major Smart Industries: cloud computing, intelligent electric cars, intelligent green buildings, and inventions and patents
  • Ten Major Service Industries: cuisine, healthcare, pop music and digital content, tourism, logistics, innovation and venture capital, urban renewal, telecommunications, electronic business, and higher education export

Since then, the government has developed new programs to train students for jobs in these industries and updated existing programs to better meet industry needs. Taiwan also built connections with employers to ensure CTE programs remain relevant and create opportunities for students to gain experience in the workplace. Employers provide advice on how to design effective learning environments and offer work-based learning experiences through local Technical and Vocational Education Advisory Committees. These groups include representatives of government, industry, educational institutions, teachers’ organizations, and professional associations as well as experts and members of the public. There are also six Centers for Regional Industry-Academia Cooperation to facilitate collaboration between businesses and institutions of higher education.

As Taiwan continues to be the world hub for the semiconductor industry, the Ministry of Education and top manufacturers, including TSMC, are working together to establish new colleges to train the next generation of semiconductor and artificial intelligence engineers. Semiconductor companies are involved in designing the curricula and send their own employees to teach classes and advise student research.

Governance and System Structure

Like other K-12 education programs in Taiwan, vocational programs in local schools are overseen by local Bureaus of Education, while other vocational programs are overseen by the central Ministry of Education. The Department of Technological and Vocational Education within the Ministry of Education is responsible for CTE programs at the post-secondary level, including in universities of science and technology. 

Supporting students’ career development is one of the four key educational goals outlined in Taiwan’s new 12-Year Basic Education curriculum. Schools must integrate career planning either across required subjects or in school-developed courses at all grade levels, and there is required coursework in career planning for all upper secondary school students. 

CTE starts in the final year of lower secondary schools, when students can take introductory vocational coursework, known as the “practical arts program.” Schools must offer coursework in between one and four industry areas, and students can choose courses in one to two industry areas per semester, for up to 40 percent of curriculum time. Students in the practical arts program are given priority entry into upper secondary school CTE programs. Admission varies by program: some programs admit all interested students, and others require demonstration of specific skills or recommendations.

As of 2018, slightly less than half of all upper secondary school students in Taiwan were enrolled in CTE; this represents a decline from the 1990s, when nearly 70 percent of students chose CTE. The decline is largely due to an increasing preference among parents for academic study and university degrees, despite the fact that there is a shortage of technical workers and an over-supply of university graduates. The government has sought to address this shift through the School Actualization Program, which provides subsidies and Ministry support for school improvement in all upper secondary schools, with the goal of increasing the share of high-quality vocational schools. Taiwan has also taken steps to improve career counseling at the lower secondary level through a 2017 law that significantly lowered the student-to-guidance-counselor ratio., 

CTE Programs

There are three types of upper secondary CTE programs in Taiwan: programs at dedicated vocational schools, which account for the majority of upper secondary CTE program enrollment; programs at comprehensive upper secondary schools; and programs at junior colleges.

  • Vocational schools offer a three-year program that leads to a high school diploma. Programs are available in six broad fields: agriculture, industry, business/commerce, marine products, home economics, and art and design. There are jurisdiction curricula for specific professions, such as civil engineering and architecture or hospitality, within each of these fields. The curricula are generally evenly divided among Ministry-required general academic subjects, Ministry-required vocational subjects, and school-developed general or vocational subjects, including elective courses. Programs are primarily classroom-based, but students participate in work-based learning at least once per year. 
  • Unlike vocational schools, comprehensive upper secondary schools start with one year of Ministry-required common general academic courses for all students before allowing students to choose academic or vocational coursework for their final two years. Students can take up to about one-third of their total credits in one vocational field of study. These programs also lead to a high school diploma and a vocational certificate recording the vocational coursework students took. 
  • Finally, students can enroll in five-year junior colleges, which combine upper secondary school vocational programs with junior college vocational programs, leading to an associate degree.

Graduates of upper secondary-level CTE programs can continue vocational training at two-year junior colleges, technical colleges, and universities of science and technology, where they can earn advanced degrees ranging from associate degrees to doctoral degrees in technical fields. Students can also take the jurisdiction-wide university entrance exams and go on to earn a four-year undergraduate degree in an academic field. About 75 percent of vocational upper secondary school graduates opt for junior colleges, technical colleges, or universities of science and technology to continue their vocational studies. Five percent go to university, and 15 percent start working after graduation.

For students going into the workforce, the Ministry of Labor offers written and practical examinations that lead to certification in more than 140 skill areas, such as computer-aided architectural drawing or hotel catering. CTE providers, including at the upper secondary level, are approved by the Ministry to administer these exams; for some vocational programs, there is more than one relevant skills certification exam. The Ministry awards three levels of certification to those who pass the required skills examinations, depending on the test-taker’s level of education and number of hours of training or work experience in the vocational field. While all students are encouraged to take these exams, it is not a requirement for graduation from upper secondary school. 

Convincing both parents and students that the CTE system is a path to secure employment is a challenge in Taiwan even though there is a shortage of skilled technical workers. One strategy the government put in place to encourage youth to consider work or vocational training as an alternative to higher education is the Employment Exploration Support Program for High School Graduates. Co-directed by the Ministries of Labor and Education and announced in 2016, the program encourages upper secondary school graduates to gain full-time work experience before pursuing higher education. The Ministry of Labor helps students find full-time positions in traditional, agricultural, cultural and creative, or industrial and commercial sectors, and the government deposits a monthly allowance into their savings account for up to three years as an incentive to participate.

Teachers and Principals

While Taiwan has very strong teachers and principals, it has put in place a range of reforms to strengthen its teacher development system even further. These reforms address an oversupply of teachers and expand professional development for both teachers and school leaders.

Teacher Recruitment 

Since the 1990s, Taiwan has faced challenges balancing the supply and demand for teachers. Prior to the 1990s, only three normal schools and nine teachers’ colleges were permitted to prepare teachers. In 1994, the Teacher Education Act began allowing all colleges and universities to offer teacher preparation programs, which expanded the number of institutions offering these programs to 75 by 2005. Concerned about program quality and facing a significant oversupply of teachers, the Ministry introduced a system to evaluate teacher preparation institutions and granted itself the authority to suspend enrollment at those deemed inferior. The Ministry evaluated institutions based on a set of criteria including learning outcomes of teacher candidates — such as the share earning a passing score on the Teacher Qualification Examination — and opportunities for teacher candidates to gain practical experience in schools. 

By 2016, the number of programs had dropped to 52, and the number of new teachers had dropped by more than 60 percent. Nonetheless, teacher surpluses persist in many geographic regions due to Taiwan’s declining birth rate; at the same time, there are teacher shortages in remote areas and in specific subjects, including English and information technology. The Ministry has responded by establishing a database to evaluate the supply and demand for teachers and better regulate the number of teachers who enter preparation programs. The government has also responded with targeted reforms, such as a plan to recruit and train 5,000 new primary and lower secondary school English teachers by 2030.,

While there is no official minimum grade threshold for entry into teacher education, Taiwan attracts strong candidates. On PISA 2015, 15-year-old students in Taiwan who expected to become teachers scored significantly higher on average in mathematics than students who expected to work in other professions. 

Some teacher training programs offer government scholarships, which typically come with a requirement that students serve in remote or special districts after graduation. Teachers in Taiwan are generally paid well and have a generous benefits package. Pay is determined by years of experience and highest level of qualification. 

Teacher Preparation and Induction

Students who plan to teach in primary school enter preparation programs at teachers’ colleges, while those who plan to teach at the secondary level study at colleges of education within universities. At all institutions, the programs are four years, followed by a six-month, full-time practicum. All students are required to take classes in their specialized area. Once their coursework is completed, students take the Teacher Qualification Examination to determine if they can proceed to the practicum, during which they practice both teaching and administrative work. In 2017, the pass rate on the Teacher Qualification Examination was only 58 percent for primary school teachers and 57 percent for secondary school teachers. Teachers who complete the practicum successfully are granted a Qualified Teachers’ Certificate specific to their teaching area. In 2018, the Ministry moved the qualifying exam to follow the practicum rather than precede it, on the premise that some candidates will decide not to pursue teaching after the practicum, funneling the most committed students into the exam and thereby raising its pass rate.

Certification is not a guarantee of placement in schools. Principals are responsible for hiring teachers, and because of declining student enrollment due to declining birth rates, hiring is competitive. The hiring process often includes written assessments, interviews, and teaching demonstrations. 

While Taiwan requires an associate degree for preschool teachers, more than three-quarters of them hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Like primary and secondary school teachers, preschool teachers must pass a written teacher qualification exam before they can be hired by schools.,

Teacher Career Progression

Experienced and well-regarded teachers are offered opportunities to expand their professional responsibilities. Teachers with more than five years of experience can become a convener of teachers in their subject area or a teacher mentor; they may also take on administrative work as a potential path to promotion to administrative roles. Leadership roles within teaching are locally developed and vary in their responsibilities. The Ministry of Education has proposed an educator career ladder that has not yet been put in place. The ladder has an administrative track and a teaching track, and four levels within the teaching track: beginning teacher, experienced teacher, mentor teacher, and research teacher.

Under the Teacher Remuneration Act, teachers are assigned salary grades based on their education, experience, and seniority. There are also two types of allowances that can be added to teachers’ base salaries: occupational allowances, for teachers who take on additional roles, such as in leadership, counseling, or special education; or academic research allowances, for teachers who engage in pedagogical or academic research.

Teacher Professional Development

The Ministry of Education does not require that schools provide new teacher induction programs, but the government does mandate that teacher preparation institutions provide technical assistance and professional development to their graduates to help them transition into their roles. The government also provides a financial subsidy to encourage experienced teachers to mentor new teachers, but these arrangements vary by school and district.

Teachers are obliged by law to engage in teaching-related research and professional development, but there is no required minimum number of hours for teachers, with the exception of a requirement that kindergarten teachers complete 18 hours of professional development each year. Instead, local Bureaus of Education specify their own requirements. For example, Kaohsiung City mandates that teachers complete 28 hours per year of professional development, while New Taipei City mandates 54 hours per year. Some professional development programs are centrally planned by the Ministry of Education, some are co-organized by local governments, and some are initiated within individual schools.

In addition, the Ministry is implementing a new program to allow teachers with at least three years of teaching experience to volunteer to take responsibility for developing school learning communities. These learning communities aim to give teachers shared planning time and opportunities to observe the teaching of experienced teachers. Learning community activities and classroom observations are uploaded to an online web platform, the Nationwide Teacher In-Service Advancement Education Information Web, as teacher resources. 

The government has also been subsidizing efforts to enable teachers to take courses in other Asian and Pacific nations. As part of the government’s New Southbound Policy, a partnership between Taiwan and 18 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Australasia, universities identify teachers who can benefit from the courses and arrange for their travel and enrollment.  

There have also been efforts to strengthen vocational teacher capacity. Since 2010, the Ministry of Education has funded partnerships between industry experts and teachers in vocational upper secondary schools, with the goal of involving experts in curriculum planning and design as well as teaching. Additionally, the Ministry has subsidized teachers who enroll in vocational courses to enhance their practical knowledge and improve their teaching. Since 2015, CTE institutions have been required to grant teachers at least one half-year of paid leave every six years to study or conduct research in their industry area. Institutions can also meet this requirement by facilitating ongoing research or collaboration between teachers and institutions of higher education or industry.

Principal Recruitment, Preparation, and Development

In Taiwan, principals are responsible for administering all school policies and programs and play a key role in leading the direction of teaching and learning. Principals are required to have at least four years of teaching experience and at least two years of administrative experience, which is generally satisfied by holding a school leadership role with responsibility for a specific area of school affairs, such as teaching and learning, personnel, or finance. Applicants take a competitive qualification exam for the principalship administered by the Ministry of Education, and those who pass are then required to take an eight-to-10-week Ministry course that covers topics including school leadership, communications, education law, and educational research. No additional academic credentials are required of principals. Principals are hired at the school level and are typically appointed to four-year terms. After a second term, the principal is reassigned to a different school. Local Bureaus of Education in high-need areas, such as remote areas, have flexibility to allow principals to remain at their schools instead of reassigning them at the end of two terms. 

Teachers with leadership potential are encouraged to take on administrative roles within the school. For example, a teacher with significant teaching experience who is held in high esteem by supervising officers might be promoted to section chief of the academic or student affairs office and then possibly to director. At that point, the teacher is eligible to take a qualification exam to become a principal candidate. Taiwan’s proposed educator career ladder, which has not yet been implemented, would allow experienced teachers to choose between taking on progressively more and different teaching responsibilities or transitioning to an administrative role.  

The Ministry of Education’s National Academy for Educational Research (NAER), which was founded in 2011 through the merger of five government institutes in the field of education, offers professional development courses and programs for currently serving principals. Principals are not required to participate, as there is no minimum number of hours required for professional development, but the Ministry will cover the costs of any courses in which they enroll. The NAER offers courses in instructional leadership, technology leadership, curriculum development, computer programming, class observation, positive discipline, and more. The focus is on developing practical skills through analyzing case studies and offering immediate feedback. 

Principal employment, including reappointment to a second term, depends on the results of performance evaluations conducted by an evaluation committee. This committee is made up of local education officers, parents, teachers, and other education experts or academics. Principals are evaluated against a set of indicators relating to school vision, leadership of the administration, leadership in curriculum and instruction, leadership of the community, and moral leadership. The Ministry awards some high-performing principals opportunities to transfer to leadership positions in other government branches.