This is the second part of a two-part post about gifted education in Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China (R.O.C.)
Part One traced the history of Taiwan’s national gifted and talented education programme from its earliest origins in 1961/1962 up to the final years of the Twentieth Century.
Part Two picks up the story at that point, tracing developments up to the present day and on either side of the publication in 2007 of the seminal White Book on Gifted Education.
Before the White Book
The Millennial Position
Wu’s article from 2000 ‘Talent Identification and Talent Development in Taiwan’ provides a useful basis for comparison with his earlier publications.
We will continue to use his preferred categorisation into Supervisory, Implementation and Resource issues (though he has much to say about the middle of these and comparatively little to offer on the other two).
The Special Education Law (SEL) was revised and reissued in 1997 but Wu does not explain in detail how the provisions have been adjusted compared with the 1984 version.
He does mention changes to identification processes:
‘The new regulation…is more flexible and more school-based (rather than national norm-referenced). As the conception of giftedness is broadening and the gifted/talented education programmes are expanding in Taiwan, the identification/assessment procedures will change into a less strict and more flexible system, aiming at developing talents for all.’
There is slightly more information in a brief article in the Winter 1999 World Council Newsletter which mentions that the revised SEL extended the definition of giftedness to include leadership and creativity. It also specified that support should be available for socially and culturally disadvantaged and twice exceptional students.
Identification: Wu explains that, prior to 1998, students had to fulfil additional criteria to those outlined in the previous section, but it is not clear whether these were introduced by the 1997 SEL or beforehand.
Gifted students needed:
‘A score higher than two standard deviations above the mean on the IQ test; a grade point average in the top 2 % of their school peers at the same grade, or a score higher than two standard deviations above the mean on an achievement test covering major subjects in the curriculum .’
Meanwhile, students identified as mathematically or scientifically talented needed to:
‘Receive a score higher than one and a half standard deviations above the mean on an intelligence test and achievement tests in math and/or science. In addition, they must have a grade point average in the top 1% of their school peers at the same grade in mathematics or science, or have demonstrated an outstanding performance in a national or international competition.’
And arrangements were similar for those with talent in languages. The identification arrangements for the artistically talented seem broadly the same:
‘Students are assessed through their performance…and through a series of artistic or musical aptitude tests. The eligibility criterion for the students talented in dance and drama is mainly focused on performance. Those who achieved awards for distinguished performance in a national or international contest are also accepted.’
The expectation of ‘an IQ test score above the mean’ for artistically talented learners was removed by the 1997 SEL and implemented in 1999.
Wu concentrates on a series of familiar problems and challenges associated with identification. These include: a tendency for parents and teachers to view the procedure as competitive; the selection of very few socially and culturally disadvantaged learners because of the nature of the tests used; and uncertainty over how to deal with high IQ students who nevertheless underachieve in the classroom.
Conversely, there have been issues with high achievers who not have a sufficiently high IQ to be selected into the gifted classes:
‘These children were placed in regular classes but their exceptional grades put pressure on teachers and administrators to get them admitted to the special classes for the gifted. School personnel see the children as gifted and are impressed by their strong motivation and good work skills. After considerable debate within each school, these children are gradually admitted to the gifted classes.’
Coaching is also mentioned for the first time:
‘It has been rumoured that some parents bought the IQ tests used by the schools and coached their child with these exams. This rumour should be viewed with scepticism since it is by no means likely that the average parent could purchase all the different forms of each of the IQ tests and be able to coach the child effectively for such a complex task. Nevertheless, coaching remains problematic because it places a great pressure on the school and the educational administration bureau.’
Programme Design: Wu says that:
‘Up to 1997, programmes…were three types: programmes for the intellectually gifted, programmes for students talented in specific academic domains, and programmes for students talented in fine arts, music, dancing, drama, and sports.
The goals of these gifted programmes are: to develop the potential of gifted/talented students, to cultivate good living habits and healthy personality traits, and to teach for high cognitive and/or skill attainment.’
This rather implies that the categorisation changed in 1997, but Wu provides no further information. In other respects programming seems broadly unchanged.
Wu’s analysis of the problems associated with programme design and development include a more thorough treatment of the advantages and disadvantages of mainstreaming.
He notes that the perceived advantages of the resource room approach are associated with ‘the affective and social domains’ yet there is little research evidence to support the argument that they are preferable to separate classes in this respect.
He concludes that
‘The decision on the relative efficacy and desirability of each model is still an unsolved problem.’
Other issues are largely repetitions of the earlier set quoted above.
Teacher development and deployment: Wu rephrases his previous concerns, noting that teachers find it increasingly hard to ‘cope with a class of students with a large appetite for learning and diverse interests and aptitudes’. Their additional responsibilities for curriculum design and development of teaching materials contribute to overload. Many believe gifted education is more challenging but also more stressful. Interestingly ‘they also caution against having expectations that are too high for the gifted’.
Wu recapitulates concerns about parental attitudes, which are dominated by the entrance examinations for senior high schools.
‘They feel anxious if the gifted/talented classes have too much curriculum content that is outside the scope of the “standard curricula” or the high school entrance exam. This perception puts inordinate pressure on the schools, and influences the teaching of gifted/talented classes.’
He concludes with plea for a more coherent and flexible system:
‘Further development should be planned and implemented. To ensure the full development of talents in our society, we must not be content with the limited programmes in limited areas on an experimental basis. Multi-flexible gifted/talented education programmes ought to be designed to meet the divergent needs of the students with multi-capabilities.’
Let us see how far progress towards this ideal was subsequently realised.
Incremental Growth and Associated Controversy
There is relatively little freely available material covering the period between 2000 and 2007, which may be attributable – at least in part – to a decline in the relative priority attached to gifted education by the Taiwanese Government.
There is, however, data available – reproduced in Table 3 below – which shows continued expansion, in high schools at least:
Table 3: Increase in Numbers of Gifted Classes and Students in Taiwanese High Schools, 2001-2005
Another source reveals that, by 2005, the total number of students attending special and resource classes was 45,537, equivalent to 1.27% of the total student population, and a significant improvement compared with 1997, when fewer than 33,000 learners were supported.
By 2006, this total had further increased to 50,693. However, only 13% of Taiwan’s schools (519 in all) were by this stage providing such programmes.
This increase in the number of gifted classes was not entirely welcomed however. Many educators felt that parental pressure was turning some of the classes into little more than crammers for high school entrance examinations.
The Government’s response was to tighten the identification criteria, reintroducing requirements that students must score two standard deviations above the mean in IQ tests and above the 97th percentile in achievement. (These requirements had for some years been relaxed to 1.5 standard deviations and above the 93rd percentile).
Continuing disagreement over this issue prompted the Government to organise a national conference on gifted education in July 2006 (more on this below).
Such disagreement was embodied in what became a cause celebre
In 2004 Taiwan’s National Education Act was amended to require mixed ability classes in junior high schools. Previously it was permissible to run selective ‘upper level’ and ‘lower level’ classes. However, under the terms of the SEL, schools were still permitted to provide special gifted classes.
Many used this provision as a loophole, redesignating their upper level classes as gifted classes.
In May 2006, four or five counties and cities in central Taiwan (the number varies according to the source) organised a joint entrance examination for over 20,000 elementary school students seeking entrance to these redesignated classes. Central Government declared the examination illegal.
One source quotes different opinions of existing practice:
‘Yang Hsiu-pi…policy director of the National Teachers’ Association, said that fake gifted education classes only caused segregation between students and that more resources were distributed to these classes, so they are therefore unfair to other “normal” students.
Also, the courses for students in the so-called gifted classes are geared towards entrance examinations to high school…’
‘Baw Chung-miin , chairman of the Parents’ Association in Taipei, said that the association supported gifted education…Gifted students should be distributed into mixed ability classes but for subjects for which they show a particular talent, they can be removed from their normal classes to learn in a special class designed especially for gifted children, Baw said.’
The Minister was quoted in a follow-up story:
‘According to the Act, so-called gifted students must earn that designation after being observed by teachers or other professionals before taking the test…Many students attended cram school classes before taking the joint exams, and therefore failed to fulfil this requirement…The joint examinations also meant that students may end up going to a school far away from home when the ministry promotes attending nearby schools’.
Tu said that although local governments were often allowed to make their own decisions, they had not listened to the education ministry during a meeting early this month…’
In a second report of the affair, Tu offers up a slightly different concern:
‘Education Minister Tu Cheng-sheng reiterated yesterday that he strongly backs the classes for “truly gifted” students but steadfastly opposes the “falsely gifted” students.
He stressed that it is “common sense” that “gifted” students are born and not produced by cram schools.’
In opposing the belief that learners can be coached to become recognised as ‘gifted’, he falls into the opposite error of suggesting that their giftedness is entirely determined by heredity.
There is also an undercurrent of tension between central and local government, with the latter clearly feeling that the former has intervened far too belatedly, is singling them out when other local authorities are doing exactly the same thing, and is trampling on their local autonomy.
The second report concludes:
‘The identification, selection and education of “gifted” students in Taiwan have long been among the most controversial education issues on the island…
Most junior high schools in rural areas tend to separate students into three major categories: 1) “talented students” who are on their way to top-notch senior high schools and subsequently best universities; 2) “average” students; and 3) “abandoned” students, who either quit school after completing the compulsory junior high education or moving on to vocational training schools and junior colleges…
Educators said it is absurd to see that almost every school has a large number of “gifted” students. The MOE should help draw up independent and stricter criteria to discover and identify the genuinely talented teenagers for “special cultivation,” they said.’
Science and Creativity Become Priorities; Music is Problematic
An insight into the priorities of this period can be gained from the list of projects undertaken by Ching-Chi Kuo, who was Director of NTNU’s Special Education Center from 2001 to 2007. These include:
2000: Identification and Assessment of Culturally Different Talented Students.
2001-2003: Discovering and Nurturing Art Talented Students—The Wu-Lai School Model.
2003-2006: Developing Multiple Intelligences and Problem Solving Ability of Gifted/Talented Handicapped and Non-handicapped Preschool Children.
2006-2008: The Compilation Project on Adjustment Scale for Identifying Gifted Students in Senior High Schools (Co-PI)
2006-2008: The Compilation Project on Adjustment Scale for Mathematic Gifted Senior High School Students
2006-2008: Group-administered Intelligence Test for Primary and Junior High School Students (Co-PI)
Several of these were conducted under the auspices of Taiwan’s National Science Council, and science evidently became a major priority during this period.
In 2003 the Ministry published a White Paper for Science Education.
This states that:
‘Special curricula and evaluation systems should be developed for gifted/talented students…The needs for science learning for gifted/talented students should also be considered’
In 2006 there is a reference on the Ministry website to a ‘Project for Cultivating Outstanding Talents in Science’ but it is not too clear what the project entails.
A subsequent report, dating from 2009 refers to recent decisions to create science streams in senior high schools.
‘Six senior high schools have been approved to open a science stream each this year. There will be 30 people in each class, selected from junior high school graduates or 8th graders qualified to take the basic competency test. No more than five junior high senior students with proven outstanding performance and exempt from the competency test can be accepted to each class….
Senior high schools and universities will coordinate and design the curricula. The programme will be divided into two stages. In the first stage the students will take regular basic science subjects as well as humanity science courses and attend intramural examinations for exempted subjects. The second stage includes mostly specialised disciplines. University professors will be invited to give lectures or students may directly take natural science courses in universities and conduct their own research projects under the guidance of university professors…’
Science remains high up the agenda. The Ministry indicates that advanced science education was a particular priority in 2012, especially in senior high schools:
‘Taiwan has achieved outstanding results in the international Mathematics and Science Olympiad. Domestic mathematics and science competitions are frequently held for senior high school students, and there are also science talent cultivation plans and domestic and international exhibitions to stimulate interest and learning in the sciences.
Key objectives for the year 2012: (i) Continue training students for the Maths and Science Olympiads, and organise similar domestic competitions in mathematics and information technology for junior high school and senior high school students. (ii) Plan to host the 26th International Olympiad in Informatics in 2014. (iii) Continue supporting secondary and elementary education projects in science and cultivation programmes for scientific talent. (iv) Set up science programmes in senior high schools and monitor the effectiveness of the programmes.’
Also in this period the Government published a Creativity White Paper marking the culmination of a series of research projects and initiatives conducted throughout the late 1990s.
The White Paper argued that:
‘To fully unleash the creative potential of the people in Taiwan , it is essential to initiate a thorough analysis and examination of all relevant policies and strategies to determine which actions have fostered and will continue to promote the creative processes and which ones have been stifling innovation. The ultimate goal is threefold: first, to establish an educational policy that will encourage and support creativity; second, to develop and institute instructional strategies to implement creative education; and third, to widen the public’s vision and appreciation for a “creative culture” by arousing their creative interests from an “ecological perspective.”’
The aims included providing ‘an educational environment in which individual differences are treasured and that contributes to a diverse and dynamic learning atmosphere’.
Analysis of the current situation in Taiwan revealed a set of problems not dissimilar to those besetting gifted education:
- The public understanding of creativity is limited and beset by prejudice – ‘many assume that creativity is an inborn trait and that nurturing efforts are futile’ while ‘parents’ and teachers’ high expectations for short-term academic performance does not encourage innovative learning through trial and error’;
- Though many educational policies emphasise creativity, they have not been fully implemented. Teacher education and evaluation are limited.
- The culture of most schools is not conducive to creativity and there is too much emphasis on the outcomes of teaching and learning rather than the process.
The White Paper proposes a series of principles to govern implementation, the first of which is called ‘the all-inclusive principle’ Part of this says:
‘When implementing creative policies, we must focus on both those with special talents as well as on the general public. Of course, we will continue to promote policies that support gifted and talented education and that cultivate special talent, but we must also pay homage to the idea that everyone is born with creative potential; as such, we should strive to maximize the creative aptitude of the general public as well.’
One of the imperatives in the strategy laid out in the White Paper is to ‘Specify Creative Thinking as One of Our Educational Goals and Incorporate this into Educational Curriculum at All Levels’ but there is no further reference to talent development or the interaction with gifted education.
An article by Kuo on Creative Education for Gifted and Talented students (undated but certainly post 2006) outlines the key elements of the Taiwanese ‘creative education development plan’ which consists of ‘8 main projects and 277 sub-projects.
The former are listed: nurturing trips for creative learners; professional development of creative teachers; campus space renewal; ongoing consolidation of creativity cultivation; online learning via database banks; creative campus life in action; international creativity education exchange; and promotion of the concepts of creativity.
According to Kuo, the beneficiaries include:
‘students who come from gifted or talented classes/programmes and students who are not labelled as ‘gifted’ but also show high creative potentials’.
She goes on to describe an enrichment programme based at NTNU to develop ‘young gifted children’s multiple intelligences…problem solving ability and creativity’.
In a 2009 paper ‘Planting the Seeds of Creative Education in Taiwan: Some Examples of Down-to-Earth Programmes’, Jing-Jyi Wu illustrates some of the outcomes of the White Paper strategy, including the so-called ‘Intelligent Ironman Creativity Contest’ introduced in 2004.
The purpose of this team-based competition is to:
‘Prepare future leaders with the following strengths: (a) creative and innovative, (b) cooperative team members, (c) multidisciplinary, (d) able to obtain and use resources efficiently, (e) physically strong and enduring.’
The contest continues to this day.
A paper dating from 2005 by Hsiao-Shien Chen examines the effectiveness of Taiwan’s Special Music Programme (SMP), designed to prepare students with musical talent for subsequent university study.
Talented young musicians are recruited into SMPs at elementary, junior and senior high schools. In the latter case, they must pass auditions and the standard entrance examinations.
In the case of elementary and junior high schools they undertake an IQ test, an ‘academic test’ and separate tests of musical aptitude and ‘musicianship’.
Chen’s review pulls no punches:
‘The results of this study suggest that there be continued investigation of the Special Music Programmes in Taiwan and that they be viewed with scepticism. It would appear that a great deal of government money and teacher effort is expended in the SMPs, but little evidence of this specialised training can be seen after three semesters in a university music programme. Given the scarcity of resources for ordinary K-12 school programmes, one must wonder if the resources devoted to the SMP might be better spent…
Although the SMP functions well in preparing students for advanced music study in certain subjects, the significant effect of an SMP background only shows up for a short period in students’ performance. Besides the main function of the SMP to prepare students for advanced music study, the side effects of the SMP should be a serious concern, too.’
The author recommends that the Ministry should appoint an expert group to review and revise the SMP curriculum, which is over-focused on exam preparation and under-focused on the development of musicianship.
The White Book of Gifted Education to the Present Day
The White Book
The appearance of the White Book was an important watershed in the recent history of Taiwanese gifted education.
The idea may well have originated with Wu. There is a paper dating from 2005 or thereabouts called ‘Development and Perspectives of Gifted Education in Taiwan’, though I can only source a Chinese version with an abstract in English.
The abstract says the paper proposes ‘seven action plans for further development’:
‘(1) enhancing scientific researches and their application; (2) strengthening legislations; (3) keeping the educational avenues fluent for gifted students; (4) enhancing teacher education and empowering GATE teachers; (5) enhancing accountability for results and follow-up; (6) publishing a national “white book” on GATE: (7) establishing a National Research Centre on GATE and initiating an Asian Resource Centre of GATE.’
The following year, the sixth of these proposals became a reality.
The Ministry of Education’s website carries an introduction to the White Book which notes that:
‘The development of gifted education in Taiwan at the turn of the new century has aroused great attention when a lot of gifted classes were formed without adequate evaluation on its content and quality.’ [sic]
This concern led to a Conference of National Gifted Education Development being convened in July 2006, where experts discussed a list of issues: administration and resources, identification and placement of gifted learners, curriculum design and teaching, teacher education and support, counselling, disadvantaged gifted learners and evaluation.
Conclusions were reached following a series of local forums
The White Book captures Conference outcomes and is intended ‘to serve as the reference of local authorities’.
A second note by Kuo offers a similar summary.
An English language version of the White Book itself was published in March 2008. It opens with the note summarised above before setting out the detailed provisions.
These begin with four ‘ideals of gifted education’ which, in brief, are:
- Every gifted student should have suitable educational opportunities to explore their potential;
- Gifted students require a differentiated learning environment responsive to their different abilities, interests and aptitude;
- Gifted education should respond to different types of ability and multiple intelligences – there should be more opportunities for more students, not just the academically able, and this requires support from parents and society as a whole;
- Gifted education should place equal importance on the cognitive and affective, supporting gifted students to become wise and caring people who can help the less fortunate, tolerate differences and appreciate the achievements of others.
Some of the strengths of the Taiwanese system include the support of ‘government authorities’ (both central and local, presumably), the existence of expert committees securing open and fair identification processes, support from the special education centres established for that purpose and support from research bodies such as the National Science Council.
On the other hand, some weaknesses are apparent, including poor levels of public understanding, limited professional understanding amongst teachers and administrators, insufficiently differentiated curricula and ‘hindrance on multiple assessment and placement plans’.
Seven ‘developmental dimensions’ require attention. In each case the White Book analyses the current state, the obstacles faced and planned strategies to overcome them. It sets out seven action plans to implement these strategies.
Administration and resources: This includes the organisation and operation of the system, budgetary and regulatory issues and online and community resources, including parental involvement.
National responsibility for administration is vested in the Ministry of Education’s Special Education Unit, supported by a Special Education Advisory Council.
The Education Bureau of each county and city also has its own Special Education Division, an Advisory Board and a Committee for the Identification and Placement of Gifted and Disabled Students.
Each School has its own Special Education Promotion Committee and/or a Special Education Unit.
Regulation is via the 1984 Special Education Law (SEL), as substantively amended in 1997, but also subject to further amendment in 2001, 2004 and 2006 respectively. There are also several relevant sets of Regulations relating to issues such as the curriculum and teaching materials, acceleration, staffing and so on.
Article 30 of the SEL makes the necessary budgetary provision, requiring that:
‘The annual special education budget of the central government shall account for no less than 3% of the sum allotted to education. The annual special education budget of the local governments shall account for no less than 5% of the sum allotted to education.’
A table is supplied showing that gifted education has been allocated around 5% of the annual special education budget in the years 2005-07.
The total annual gifted education budget varies from $NT 307m to $NT 334m (roughly £6.67m to £7.16m). A note says these total include ‘the personnel and administration expenditures in Public senior high schools’.
The description of community and internet resources is more qualitative, outlining the support available through libraries, museums and universities, a range of competitions and science fairs and a smattering of websites.
The text says ‘it is desirable to have more websites in the future specifically designed for gifted education’.
A few gifted education development organisations have been established by parents, some of whom serve on local special education advisory boards and school-based parents’ associations. Additional support is provided through the centres established at normal universities and teachers’ colleges and also local gifted education resource centres.
The key problems identified include: too little human resource, ‘lack of clear regulations and policies’, inadequate funding, limited distribution of community and online resources, limited parental co-ordination and too few research institutes and resource centres.
Six actions are proposed to address them:
- Amend the Special Education Act and related regulations to promote gifted education.
- Enhance professional knowledge and administrators’ implementation strategy.
- Increase the proportion of the total education budget allocated to gifted education.
- Organise the involvement of experts, professionals, teachers and parents in supporting gifted education development
- Support the creation of more parents’ groups and
- Establish a National Special (Gifted) Education Research Development Centre and support local government to establish more resource centres for gifted education.
Identification and placement: This incorporates identification criteria and tools, professional involvement and processes, and continuity across different sectors.
We learn that the SEL as amended has replaced the original tripartite distinction between general intelligence, scholastic aptitude and special talents.
There are currently six categories of giftedness: general intelligence aptitude, specific academic aptitude, visual and performing arts, creative and productive thinking, leadership ability and other aptitudes.
There is provision for the early entry of gifted students to kindergarten and some areas are trying out accelerative approaches, but there is so far no special identification processes for students displaying creativity, leadership and other special talents.
There was a move to:
‘include multiple intelligences, to lower the threshold of gifted children identification to 1.5 standard deviations (SD) above the mean, instead of 2 SD, and to depend more on the observation and professional judgment of experts than on objective tests.’
But, as we have seen, the use of gifted classes as a way to continue selective groups when mixed ability grouping was imposed in 2004 eventually led the Government to reintroduce a requirement that gifted learners should have scores on aptitude tests that were 2 standard deviations above the mean.
In reaction to ‘the implementation of ability grouping under the disguise of gifted education’ the Government has also ruled that separate gifted classes should be confined to those with talent in visual and performing arts. Others attend ‘distributed gifted classes’ (presumably identical to the original resource room model).
Local authorities are also expected to provide a menu of additional opportunities including school-based programmes, summer and holiday sessions, competitions and mentors.
Key problems identified include: poor understanding; inadequate human resource, assessment instruments and assessment plans; lack of co-ordination and the absence of systematic identification of those with creative, leadership and special talents.
Seven strategies are identified to address these issues:
- ‘Advocate the ideal and spirit of gifted education through media’;
- Draw up codes to govern identification processes;
- Provide training for those engaged in identification;
- Develop assessment instruments and standards to improve the reliability and validity of assessment;
- Create ‘multiple placement paths’ and improve continuity of provision between sectors;
- Establish acceleration guidance; and
- Develop processes for identifying students with creativity, leadership or special talents.
Curriculum and project design: This includes differentiation, providing curricular continuity and a flexible educational environment. Responsibility is currently vested mainly in the teachers of gifted classes.
They typically embellish the standard curriculum for the relevant grade and subject, adding enrichment activities, independent study and options for acceleration. There is increasing diversification but little development so far for creative, leadership and special talents.
Problems identified include poor co-ordination, poor curriculum design, over-reliance on didactic teaching, limited focus on creativity and affective issues, poor quality teaching materials, inadequate provision for pre-schoolers and limited attention to curricular continuity across sectors.
Four strategies are proposed:
- Establish a ‘differentiated curriculum and adaptive educational environment’;
- Support school-based programmes to provide differentiation and a suitable educational environment;
- ‘Create a digital learning platform for gifted education to facilitate exchanges of teaching materials, resources, and other support of gifted education’; and
- Support pre-school enrichment programmes for gifted learners.
Teacher training: including accreditation and professional development. Following legal changes in 1999, the majority of gifted education teachers received specialist pre-service training. It is now possible to graduate with a major in gifted education.
Teachers require 40 credits for certification compared with the 16 originally stipulated and this includes 20 credits related directly to gifted education.
However, further reforms provide for all teachers to pass a certification test and the certification rate is relatively low amongst gifted education teachers: 42% in elementary schools and just 6% in secondary schools. Only 14 of 26 applicants working in gifted education successfully passed the certification test in 2007.
A recent over-supply of teachers has significantly reduced recruitment. Those who are recruited tend to be selected on the basis of their subject specialism.
Professional development is provided through seminars run by local authorities and universities, an in-service masters degree and a range of other graduate programmes. Most teachers have to pay their own fees.
There is therefore a gap between the training provided and the expertise required, too few teachers with gifted education certificates and too few professional development activities.
Four strategies are set out:
- Provide ‘multidisciplinary training’ for gifted education teachers;
- Strengthen the professional standard for gifted education teachers so that it meets the demands of the role;
- Promote increased professional development and networking between gifted education teachers;
- Develop an ‘empowerment programme’ so generalist administrators can improve their professional knowledge in gifted education.
Counselling and follow-up monitoring: More attention is paid to cognitive than affective needs. However:
‘Many gifted students have unique mal-adjustment problems, as a result of perfectionism, unbalanced physical and psychological development, and anxiety due to stereotyped expectations.’
Most counselling is provided by teachers other than the gifted education specialists or by school counsellors. Most schools monitor their gifted students until they leave. More focus is required on cross-phase studies. The proposed strategies are:
- Provide more counselling and careers advice courses.
- Develop ‘social service programmes’ for gifted learners
- Develop and maintain a database to support ‘systematic guidance’.
Disadvantaged gifted education: The importance of gifted education for disadvantaged learners was first recognised a 1995 National Gifted Education Conference. Guidelines were initially introduced in the 1997 SEL and the Ministry of Education subsequently introduced ‘a series of policies and strategies’.
In the Taiwanese context, ‘disadvantage’ includes twice-exceptional students as well as the socio-economically disadvantaged. The former are sub-divided into those with a sensory or physical disability and those who are cognitively disabled.
In 2007, there are just 97 students in these two sub-categories, 24% were hearing impaired, 22% physically disabled and 13% autistic.
The socio-economically disadvantaged include:
‘Those who possess giftedness but live in remote or aboriginal areas, from poor families, or foreign students lacking certain cultural stimulation, or students with parents possessing different mother tongues, and so on.’
The 2007 data records 129 ‘aboriginal gifted students’ and 48 students with foreign parents. The clear majority in both categories have been identified for talent in visual and performing arts.
The problems identified are inadequate understanding of gifted learners in these groups and limitations of assessment tools, administrative support and professional development.
The strategies proposed are to:
- Advocate for disadvantaged gifted education and better services for disadvantaged students.
- Develop ‘multiple identification tools and placement procedures’.
- Strengthen support systems, provide consultation services and improve teachers’ knowledge and counselling of these groups.
Evaluation and supervision: There has been a long history of evaluation, much of it set out above. As for supervision, the 1997 SEL provided for at least biennial assessment by local authorities of schools and by central authorities of local authorities. Local authorities have been particularly active.
In light of the problems with ‘phantom’ gifted classes, the Ministry decided to include the effectiveness of gifted education in ‘the assessment index of special education’.
But outstanding problems include and absence of policies, limitations of assessment indices and lack of a self-evaluation process.
Three strategies are set out:
- Introduce ‘institutionalised assessment and effective supervision’.
- ‘Regulate assessment indices’ for various gifted education categories and
- Promote school self-assessment including ‘a sanction system’.
These seven strategies are outlined in slightly revised within the seven parallel action plans. Four of the actions are identified as urgent priorities:
- ‘Encourage the local educational authorities to establish their own Gifted Education Resource Centre’
- ‘Have Special Education Programmes at Normal Universities or Educational Colleges conduct gifted education teacher training workshops in order to increase the percentage of certified teachers’
- ‘Increase the percentage of gifted education budget’ and
- ‘Increase the subsidy to local education authorities to improve the facilities of gifted classes.’
An annex divides the actions into short-term (2008-09); intermediate (2010-11) and long-term projects (2012-13).
A 2008 paper from the still ubiquitous Wu carries an English language abstract mentioning three statutory changes introduced at this time: raising the test threshold from 1.5 SDs above the norm back to 2.0 (as mentioned above); retreating from separate special classes for gifted learners in favour of the pull-out model of provision; and applying screening and identification processes only after pupils have been admitted to their schools (presumably so that they do not become de facto admissions processes).
Wu notes that these adjustments have led to ‘operational problems’ and provide only limited flexibility. He argues that the future success of Taiwanese gifted education is dependent on balancing excellence and flexibility – and suggests that some of the existing regulations need to be reviewed and/or amended.
Conversely, other commentators prefer to stress the progress made already towards greater flexibility, citing the impact of articles 4, 28 and 29 of the SEL as amended in 2008, which further expanded the definition of giftedness as set out in the White Book and introduced additional provision for grade-skipping.
An insight into the implementation workload can be gleaned from an October 2011 report in the World Council’s Newsletter in which Ching-chih Kuo reveals that there are dozens of strategies and plans requiring implementation: twenty-six have been commenced or completed but others have not yet begun!
Kuo’s own website reinforces the sense of action plan overload. Her long list includes: Sub-project to Gifted and Talented Education Action Plan: Identifying and Serving Gifted Students with Disabilities and/or from Culturally Diverse [Backgrounds]; The Development Plan for Gifted Education; Sub-project to the Development Plan for Gifted Education: Progress and Perspectives; An Action Project to Assess the Outcome of School-based Gifted Education Practice; An Action Project to Develop Measures of Identifying and Serving Gifted Students with Disabilities and/or Social-economic Disadvantages; An Action Project to Develop the Follow-up System for the Gifted (Co-PI); An Action Project to Regulate Essentials on the Identification and Placement of Gifted Students; and An Action Project of School-based Gifted Education Service
By 2011 there are plans to ‘reshuffle’ the Ministry’s Special Education Unit to secure better performance. A new large-scale projects is also mentioned:
‘A Balanced Development Plan for Different Categories of Gifted Education…the Department of Special Education of National Taiwan Normal University is entrusted with the responsibility of developing a long-term project for 2012-13 and compiling suggestions to prepare another six-year action plan for gifted education from 2014 to 2019 to plan for a golden decade of gifted education in Taiwan.’
A Local Perspective from Kaoshuing City
The material available online includes an interesting commentary by Su, a gifted education administrator in Kaoshuing City’s Bureau of Education.
Kaoshuing is a city in the South-west of Taiwan with a population of almost 2.8 million. Formerly a special municipality in its own right, it merged with Kaoshuing County in 2010 to create a larger administrative unit.
Su’s paper on Gifted Education in Kaoshuing City (or Kaohsiung City) was amongst those presented at the 10th Asia-Pacific Conference on Giftedness, hosted by Singapore in July 2008.
Unfortunately the English is not easy to follow but it describes the development of gifted education provision and services within the City, especially over the period from 2004 onwards, and reflects on the implications of the White Book action plans.
Following an inaugural National Gifted Education Meeting in 1996, the City’s Education Bureau published a framework for gifted education in junior high schools in 1997 and in elementary schools the following year.
By 2003, the City had introduced a ‘Special Education Consulting Commission’, responsible for development planning, overseeing an annual work plan for special education and handling complaints. A parallel ‘Commission of Assessment and Entry Tutoring’ was also formed and several schools also set up their own ‘Special Education Promoting Commission’.
In January 2004, the Education Bureau also established a dedicated Special Education Department. The gifted education section was given responsibility for a set of learning and resource centres including a ‘high achievement education resource centre’ based in Kaohsiung Junior High School which was established in 2005.
The Bureau’s gifted education team consisted of two specialists and three support teachers, but additional staff are attached to the resource centres.
By 2008, the City’s gifted education provision is offered in four forms: early enrolment, a ‘general intelligence gifted resource project’, telescoped or compacted study and support for artistically talented young people.
The ‘general intelligence gifted support project’ selects pupils in the second year of primary school and in junior high school. The telescoping options apply in elementary and junior high schools and include:
‘‘exempt curriculum’, ‘speeding individual subject’, ‘jumping subject’ and ‘speeding whole subjects’, in order to earlier select curriculum higher than senior high school year 1 in a total of 7 categories.’
By 2004 there were 156 gifted classes in the city catering for almost 5,200 learners. By 2007 this had increased to 180 classes for almost 6,400 learners and some 320 teachers were engaged in this work, the majority in elementary schools.
An increase in the number of junior high schools has resulted in a shortage of qualified specialist teachers in that sector. There are no qualified specialists leading classes for artistically talented learners.
The Bureau partnered with the Special Education Department at National Kaohsiung Normal University in 2007 to run a course for 40 gifted education teachers (and a similar course for teachers of ‘art talent classes’ is also planned).
The budget is relatively small – $NT 3m – in 2007, but from 2008 significant additional funding ($NT 15m) is being made available for projects implementing recommendations in the White Paper for Creative Education.
The paper identifies a number of problems with current provision and strategies to address them. These include:
- Securing increased professional support within the Education Bureau;
- Finding a more efficient assessment model (because confidentiality cannot be maintained, the Bureau is having to invest in new test items each year);
- Maintaining flexibility within the gifted education curriculum in the face of parental expectation that it will be exclusively accelerative;
- Enabling staff to work collaboratively on gifted education curriculum development;
- Increasing the supply of qualified gifted education teachers and increasing the available funding.
Further Progress with Arts and Sports
An article published in the Taiwan Review in 2010 provides a relatively thorough picture of provision mid-way through the White Book reforms, while also foregrounding a growing emphasis on talent development in arts and sports.
It notes that, at March 2010, there were 26,949 students identified for artistic talent, compared with 10,740 for scholastic aptitude, 6,446 for general intelligence and 265 for ‘other special talents’.
The article gives an insight into the latter:
‘A MOE [Ministry of Education] subsidy programme will spend about NT$2.73 million (US$87,000) this year on local governments’ gifted education efforts aimed at other areas where students display special talent such as leadership, information technology, card-playing and the board game Go. The Affiliated High School of National Chengchi University in Taipei, for example, uses Go as one means to identify gifted students and even offers admission to the school based on a student’s Go ability.’
A further 32,000 were enrolled in specialised sports classes in 2008/09, though these do not count as gifted under the terms of the SEL and are the responsibility of the Ministry’s Department of Physical Education.
This shift away from a narrow concept of giftedness is seen as part of a growing trend towards diversification. While separate classes for gifted learners are no longer permitted by the legislation, this does not apply to sports and arts classes.
However there is no longer special funding for such classes on the arts side. There is also pressure to establish a separate unit to verse the arts classes.
Now that different abilities are being recognised, the standard entrance examinations for senior high school and university are being supplemented – even replaced – by other forms of assessment.
Applicants for senior high school sports classes can rely on ‘rankings at major competitions’ as well as tests of ‘general physical capability and specific skills’. Applicants for musical classes can also apply on the basis of rankings in national and regional competitions. Admissions policies have become more flexible in recent years.
Turning to sports, the Ministry of Education reportedly introduced a three-year project in 2009 to develop sporting talent through a regional infrastructure with a budget of $NT 100m. One of the aims is to establish sports classes at elementary and high schools. Students learn about sports medicine, sports nutrition and injury prevention as well as developing their sporting talents.
The article also focuses on SEL provisions permitting gifted students to enter a school early or complete their course more quickly. It features a student who performed well in the 2010 Asian Physics Olympiad. This enabled her to enter university early having already been accelerated at a younger age, skipping a year at both elementary and junior high school.
Such provision is exceptional however and the Director for Special Education at the Ministry is paraphrased:
‘For gifted students, access to higher-level and a bigger range of courses at school is better than skipping grades. In the past, some gifted students have had problems fitting in with older classmates and might have felt shy or isolated. “It can be important for students’ social development to be with classmates their own age.”’
The Size of the Programme
The Ministry website provides a breakdown of the gifted education statistics for 2008. During that academic year there were a total of 1,820 classes for gifted learners, 694 in elementary schools, 707 in junior high schools and 419 in senior and vocational high schools.
Of the total, 346 classes were for students with general intelligence, 352 classes for those with scholastic aptitude, 1,103 for the artistically talented (500 in music, 445 in art and 158 in dance) and 19 for those with other special talents.
These classes catered for a total of 44,970 students, 16,869 in elementary schools, 17,510 in junior high schools and 10,591 in senior high and vocational schools. Two graphs show how these figures have changed since 2004.
Unfortunately, more recent data available in English is not always comparable.
We have seen above that, in 2010, there were 26,949 artistically talented, 10,740 deemed to have scholastic aptitude, 6,446 with general intelligence and 265 with other special talents. This gives a total of 44,400, very slightly fewer than the 2008 total.
But another source claims that:
‘In 2010 in Taiwan there were more than seven thousand K–12 schools educating three million students, including a gifted population of up to 150,000 students.
The Ministry’s own summary statistics for school year 2011 (ending 31 July 2012) indicate that there were 29,911 students designated as gifted during that period:
- 11,017 at primary schools
- 8,479 at junior high schools and
- 10,415 at senior high and vocational schools.
But a different Ministry publication gives the total number as 38,080.
It may be that some of these totals exclude certain categories of gifted and talented students, but such distinctions are not made clear.
Nevertheless, it would appear that the total number of gifted and talented learners in Taiwan’s schools is now declining compared with 2008. This may well be attributable – at least in part – to the stricter identification criteria introduced after the difficulties experienced in 2006.
Another source provides a helpful list of the schools in the Taipei area which operated classes for the academically gifted in 2011.
This names thirteen senior high schools, but a conference presentation provides a different list for the whole of Taiwan containing 36 senior high schools all told, only nine of which are in Taipei City.
One of the statistical sources above also lists key achievements in special education over the decade 2002-2012 and priorities for the next decade. For gifted education, the retrospective achievement is summarised thus:
‘Promotion of multiple education alternatives for gifted students so as to fully develop their talents’
And the priority is to:
‘Plan 2012-2017 promotion programme for gifted students’,
so a slightly different 5-yar plan to the one envisaged by Kuo.
Contemporary issues and problems
The most recent press reports have focussed on two or three issues that are clearly exercising the Taiwanese government. In particular, there is evidence of a growing interest in the full spectrum of talent development and concern about a ‘brain drain’.
In April 2012, the Government announced that it would publish a White Paper on Talent Development within a year, following an internal review of Government policies.
Six months on, an editorial in the Taipei Times analysed the root of the problem:
‘Recently, the decline of Taiwan’s political and economic status in the international community has become a hot issue. Not only has Taiwan dropped to last place among the four Asian Tigers, but it is also lagging behind many other Asian countries. Some have concluded that the problem lies in Taiwan’s dearth of talent, a situation that has reached worrying levels.’
It suggests that Taiwan is producing too many students with academic skills, whose parents want them to become doctors, businessmen or engineers. They do not encourage their children to develop ‘diverse interests and talents’.
Furthermore, society overvalues status and wealth, particularly when embodied in rich businessmen and government officials.
Thirdly, ‘Taiwan’s educational leaders lack the confidence and refuse to believe that they can train world-class talent.’ Many Taiwanese young people go to study abroad rather than attending domestic universities. They are unlikely to return because of ‘Taiwan’s economic downturn over the last few years’.
Graduate starting salaries have not increased for a decade and are not competitive with opportunities abroad. Many are relocating to mainland China. The country also needs to improve ‘the quality of working and living environments’.
The author suggests that Taiwan must build its identity in the international community and create an environment that will attract international businesses to the country (as well as encouraging Taiwanese businesses that have relocated to the PRC and elsewhere to return).
It will be interesting to see whether these ideas feature in the 2013 White Paper.
Meanwhile, another article, this time in the Taiwan Review, provides an update on progress towards extending compulsory education to the end of senior high school, expected to be introduced in 2014.
Interestingly, part of the reform is to reduce the emphasis on examinations governing entry to senior high school.
‘Under the current BCT [Basic Competency Test] scoring system, students receive a percentage ranking between 1 and 99, and in many cases that score is the only factor schools consider when admitting students. Results of the new test, however, will only be ranked as highly competent, competent or not competent. In addition, that new ranking will only constitute a maximum of one-third of the overall score by which schools evaluate prospective students, if such a score is necessary.’
The intention is to shift gradually to a point where exams are retained only for those students with ‘advanced academic ability’ or talent in arts or music. By 2019-20, only 15% of admissions to senior high schools and junior colleges will involve examination.
Some of the most selective schools under the current system are understandably reluctant to change:
‘The high ranking of Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School, for example, gives it the ability to select “elite” students… Jianguo students have expressed concerns about the learning difficulties that could be encountered in classes in which students have a wide range of academic competence. “Some of the new students may be unable to recognise even the 26 letters of the English alphabet,” another Jianguo student said on a television news programme.’
However, the new approach is expected to reduce the pressure on junior high school students to gain admission to a ‘star school’.
Meanwhile, the issue of stifling exam pressure seems to continue to exert undue influence and several of the other old problems – cited above – seem not yet satisfactorily resolved.
The abstract of a recent paper by Kao carried by the Roeper Review (the full article costs £23.50 to access) appears to confirm this:
‘This study examines the current problems affecting Taiwan’s gifted education through a large-scale gifted programme evaluation. Fifty-one gifted classes at 15 elementary schools and 62 gifted classes at 18 junior high schools were evaluated… Major themes uncovered by this study included exam-oriented instruction, lack of quality affective education, heavy burdens for teachers, enormous pressure for students, gifted art programmes as camouflage, and the failure to utilise resources in the community. These problems could further be consolidated into an overarching theme, overemphasis on exam performance. Discussions and implications addressing these problems are provided in the hope that Taiwan’s and other countries’ gifted education can benefit from them.’
The history of gifted education in Taiwan spans a period of over 50 years. At one level it is conspicuously successful: national performance in international comparisons studies and the various Olympiads amply demonstrates that high achievement is pronounced and embedded, especially in maths and sciences.
But, paradoxically, the cause of Taiwan’s success is also the root of the problems that continue to beset its gifted education programme – and indeed its wider education system. The Taiwanese government has been wrestling with these issues determinedly for several years. There are signs of progress, but progress is slow because these reforms are challenging deep-seated cultural beliefs.
Meantime, a comparative economic downturn appears to be stimulating further policy development in reaction to the additional problems that it is generating. How it will impact on the framework of Taiwanese gifted education remains to be seen.
But the remainder of this decade promises to be a significant phase in the continuing evolution of Taiwan’s gifted education programme – possibly even redolent of the apocryphal Chinese curse. Will they finally achieve equilibrium between excellence and diversity, or is that a bridge too far?