Gifted Education in Taiwan: Part Two

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Flag_of_the_Republic_of_China.svgThis 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.

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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).

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Supervisory

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.

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Implementation

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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.’

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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.

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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’.

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Resource

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.

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Taipei 101 courtesy of Francisco Diez

Taipei 101 courtesy of Francisco Diez

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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:

Year Classes Students
2001 50 1731
2002 59 2084
2003 79 2476
2004 107 3777
2005 186 5450

 Table 3: Increase in Numbers of Gifted Classes and Students in Taiwanese High Schools, 2001-2005

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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…’

Meanwhile

‘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.’

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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.’

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SunMoonLake courtesy of Allen Hsu

SunMoonLake courtesy of Allen Hsu

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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.

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Taipei 101 courtesy of fishtailtaipei

Taipei 101 courtesy of fishtailtaipei

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The White Book of Gifted Education to the Present Day

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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’.

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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).

 

white book action plan Capture

 

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.’

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The dawn of a small fishing port dawulun keelung taiwan courtesy of harry taiwan

The dawn of a small fishing port dawulun keelung taiwan courtesy of harry taiwan

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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.

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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.”’

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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.

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2004-08 graph one Capture

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2004-8 graph 2 Capture

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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.

 


gifted classes in Taiwan senior high schools Capture

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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.

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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.’

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Final Words

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.

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Taiwans Performance in Olympiad

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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?

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GP

February 2013

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Gifted Education in Taiwan: Part One

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This post describes the development and current operation of Taiwan’s gifted education programme. It completes a tetralogy of studies of gifted education in the ‘Asian Tiger’ economies.

Flag_of_the_Republic_of_China.svg

The UK’s attention is arguably over-focused on Hong Kong and Singapore, two relatively small English-speaking jurisdictions with which we have close political and historical ties. South Korea – a much larger country – is sometimes tacked on as an afterthought, but Taiwan is the oft-neglected fourth member of the club.

It performs creditably in PISA rankings but is outstanding in TIMSS (and to a lesser extent PIRLS). My own analysis suggests that Taiwan is particularly strong at the advanced benchmarks for high achievers in these studies, especially in maths and science.

Although there are many freely available online materials about Taiwanese gifted education, few are in English and those that have been translated are often difficult to understand. Recent comprehensive studies are particularly hard to find, with several inaccessible behind paywalls or because of the continuing problems with ERIC.

The post is divided into two parts:

  • Part One sets out the background and charts the historical development of gifted education in Taiwan during the Twentieth Century;
  • Part Two reviews more recent developments, immediately before and after publication of the pivotal White Book in 2007, highlighting several policy priorities and problems that the programme is seeking to address.

For the sake of consistency I have anglicised the American spellings in quotations.

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Taiwan in a Nutshell

Taiwan is an island country in East Asia, located 110 miles off the coast of mainland south-east China, east of Hong Kong and north of the Philippines.

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Locator Map of the R.O.C. Taiwan courtesy of josh-tw

Locator Map of the R.O.C. Taiwan courtesy of josh-tw

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It consists almost entirely of the Island of Taiwan, once called Formosa. The state’s official name is the Republic of China (often shortened to R.O.C.), though the country is sometimes called Chinese Taipei, to distinguish it from the People’s Republic. The largest city is New Taipei City.

The R.O.C. was initially established on the mainland in 1912, but relocated to Taiwan when the People’s Republic was formed in 1949. The post-war Chinese Nationalist Government was eventually succeeded by a democracy.

The President is head of state and appoints a cabinet (the Executive Yuan) including a first minister (the Premier).

The Legislative Yuan, a single house legislative body, has 113 elected seats.

Taiwan has an area of 16,192 km2 and a population of approximately 23.3 million making it the 51st most populous country in the world. Some 15 million of the population are aged 0-14.

The economy is the world’s 19th largest. Per capita GDP (PPP), at $38,486, is broadly comparable with the UK’s.

The country is divided into five Special Municipalities, three Provincial Cities and 14 Counties..


taiwan roc political divisions labeled courtesy of ran english talk

taiwan roc political divisions labeled courtesy of ran english talk

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Taiwan’s economic transformation is described as the ‘Taiwan Miracle’. Consistently high rates of economic growth over the past 30 years, on the back of technological development and strong exports, have rapidly increased its wealth. Investment in human capital has been critical to its success.

The currency is the New Taiwan Dollar. One thousand $NT is worth about £20 (almost $US 35).

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Taiwan’s Education System

Responsibility for education in Taiwan rests with the Ministry of Education. The incumbent Education Minister is Wei-Ling Chiang.

There are currently nine years of compulsory education, comprising six years at primary (elementary) school (Primary 1-Primary 6) and three years at junior high school (Forms 1-3).

Senior high school (Forms 4-6) is presently non-compulsory but will become so from 2014.

Teachers are trained in specialised teachers’ colleges or on university-based courses. The same institutions provide professional development.

In the 2011 school year (August 1 2011 to 31 July 2012), there were:

  • 8,100 schools in all
  • 2,659 primary schools educating 1.46m learners and employing over 98,000 teachers
  • 742 junior high schools with 873,000 students and 51,000 teachers
  • 336 senior high schools with slightly over 400,000 students and over 36,000 teachers
  • 155 vocational schools for 366,000 students employing almost 17,000 teachers
  • 114 comprehensive senior high schools (accommodating academic and vocational tracks) with 84,000 students and
  • 188 pilot combined high schools for junior and senior high school students (the number of students and teachers is not given).

The Ministry website offers a different classification of senior high schools, distinguishing ordinary and comprehensive schools from ‘magnet’ and ‘experimental’ institutions. There are also junior colleges, with either 5-year or 2-year programmes. The 5-year providers admit students on completion of junior high school.

In anticipation of the extension of compulsory education, the Government announced in 2011 that education expenditure would increase to 22.5% of the national budget, adding a further NT$20bn.

The total education budget in 2011 is said to be NT$ 802.36 billion, or 5.84% of GDP (net of funding for private education) but another Ministry source says that:

‘In the 2010-11 academic year, the total education budget was NT$652.3 billion, of which preschool education accounted for 3.44%, primary education accounted for 26.52%, junior high school education accounted for 14.61%, senior high school education accounted for 16.05% (high schools 10.60%, vocational schools 5.45%), higher education accounted for 38.70% (college 0.77%, universities 37.93%), and 0.69% went to other institutions.’

The ROC Yearbook’s Chapter on Education provides useful background, offering this helpful diagram of the education system.

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Taiwan education system - from ROC yearbook

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Elementary and Junior High Schools

The commentary on the compulsory education sector notes that class sizes at elementary and junior high schools are currently 25 and 32 respectively, giving pupil-teacher ratios of 15:1 and 14:1 respectively. Primary and junior high schools are operated at district level and take pupils from a designated area.

The curriculum includes:

‘seven major areas of learning: languages, health and physical education, social studies, arts and humanities, mathematics, natural and life sciences, as well as interdisciplinary activities. Each school has its own curriculum development committee, which reviews teaching materials in light of the school’s particular approach and the needs of students. Some junior high schools offer technical courses to students in their third year of study, paving the way for their enrolment in vocational schools or five-year junior colleges upon graduation.

Languages constitute 20 to 30 percent of the overall curricula, with the other six areas accounting for roughly equal shares of the remainder. English is a compulsory subject from the third grade. Besides English and the official language, Mandarin, students from first through sixth grade are required to study one additional language spoken natively in Taiwan—Holo, Hakka or an indigenous language… Local language study is optional in junior high school.’

The Wikipedia entry on Taiwan’s education system offers further detail but may be somewhat outdated. In elementary schools the timetable typically runs from 07.30 to 16.00, except on Wednesday when school finishes at 12.00.

It says that, in junior high schools, the curriculum includes:

  • Classical and modern Chinese literature and poetry, composition and public speaking.
  • Maths, including algebra, geometry, proofs, trigonometry, and pre-calculus.
  • Essential English grammar
  • Science: biology (first year), chemistry (second year), physics (third year), earth science (third year) and technology (all years)
  • Social Studies including civics, history (Taiwan and China in first two years; world history in third year) and geography (Taiwan in first year, China and East Asia in second year and world geography in third year)
  • Home economics, crafts, fine art, music and drama
  • PE and outdoor education.

The Wikipedia entry emphasises that pressure remains intense to achieve the best possible outcome on entrance exams for senior high school, but the Taiwanese Government material gives a different and more up-to-date perspective.

It says that over 97% of students graduating from junior high school in the 2011/12 school year continued their studies. Forty-three percent continued to senior high school while the majority pursued vocational education in either a senior vocational high school or a junior college.

To be admitted to one of these post-compulsory options, students can either make an application or pass a Basic Competence Test comprising Chinese, English, maths, science and social science. The application route is being introduced progressively, while entrance exams are simultaneously phased out.

By 2014:

‘students will be required to sit for competitive entrance exams only if they wish to be admitted to selected schools or specialised programmes’.

Other sources suggest a somewhat different and longer timeline (see further coverage at the end of Part Two).

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Post-compulsory Education

Ministry of Education material says that Senior High School education

‘is designed to cultivate physically and mentally sound citizens, laying the foundation for academic research and the acquisition of professional knowledge in later years…’

While Wikipedia adds:

‘In many high schools incoming students may select science or liberal arts tracks depending on where their interests lie. The different learning tracks are commonly referred to as groups. Group I consists of liberal arts students, Group II and Group III of science based students (the latter studies biology as an additional subject). Science based curriculum consists of more rigorous science and mathematics classes intended to prepare the student for a career in the sciences and engineering; the liberal arts track places a heavier emphasis on literature and social studies…’

Another source explains that, during the first two years, the curriculum is similar for all students and they do not specialise until the final year.

‘Core subjects include: Chinese, English, civics, the philosophy of Dr Sun Yat-Sen, history, geography, mathematics, basic science, physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, physical education, music, fine arts, industrial arts, home economics, and military training.’

In 2011, 94.67% of senior high school graduates went on to higher education.

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Vocational high schools

‘serve to cultivate technical personnel with professional knowledge and practical skills, and to help students lay the foundation for their future careers.’

They tend to specialise in fields such as agriculture, business, engineering and nursing. Students work towards ‘national examinations for technical or vocational licenses’ required for employment in their chosen field. However almost 82% progress to higher education.

Comprehensive High Schools offer both academic and vocational options and students can select from amongst these before deciding whether to pursue an academic or vocational track.

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2006.09.13 courtesy of Max Chu

2006.09.13 courtesy of Max Chu

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The History and Development of Gifted Education

Drawing on the distinctions made in the material available online, I have divided the historical development of Taiwanese gifted education into four fairly distinct phases, each of 10 to15 years’ duration:

  • Earliest stages – 1962-1973
  • Development of experimental pilot programmes – 1973-1984
  • Expansion following the 1984 Special Education Law – 1985-1999
  • Development in the early years of this Century, publication of the White Book of Gifted Education in 2007 and subsequent progress.

The remainder of Part One covers the first two phases.

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Earliest Stages – 1962 to 1973

The cause of Taiwan’s interest in gifted education was very similar to that in Hong Kong and Singapore: a determination to achieve economic growth through investment in human capital, given the limited natural resources available.

This was formalised in the outcomes of a Fourth National Conference on Education, which took place in 1962. The Conference noted the benefits to gifted learners and to Taiwanese society as a whole.

Some sources say that the earliest provision was developed by a small group of administrators in 1961 (others say 1962), though all agree that there was no formal plan and very little funding.

The Ministry mentions an early pilot for musically talented learners located in Guangren, a private primary school in Taipei. Another source has it that this:

‘began in a private primary school, Kuang-Jen, in Taipei in 1963. Kuang-Jen Primary School was founded in 1959 by the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart of the Blessed Virgin. Since the inception of the SMP in Kuang-Jen, it has come to be regarded as setting the standard for gifted music education.’

Guangren and Kuang-Jen are in fact the same.

Initial pilots for academically gifted learners in two Taipei elementary schools started in 1964. Gifted education began to emerge as a topic at academic conferences and the first research papers were published.

Four years later, when compulsory education was extended to include the three years of junior high school, special education legislation was also introduced which acknowledged the needs of gifted learners.

The Ministry of Education says that the first separate special class for gifted learners with ‘general abilities’ (see 1984 categorisation below) was introduced in 1971 in an elementary school attached to Taichung Normal Junior College (now National Taichung Normal College).

Pupils were selected to undertake experimental courses which supplemented their normal Chinese, maths and science curriculum. Even at this early stage there was emphasis on stimulating creativity.

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Development of Experimental Pilot Programmes – 1973 to 1984

The history of developments during this period is heavily reliant on various papers attributed to Wu-Tien Wu, a former Director of the Special Education Center at NTNU.

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Elementary School Pilots

In 1973, The Taiwanese Ministry of Education began a nationwide six-year pilot programme in elementary schools. Eleven schools began to offer separate classes for learners identified on the basis of IQ.

Evidently the pilot met with only mixed success. A 1982 paper by Lin and Wu ‘Gifted Education in the Republic of China ROC’ (Gifted and Talented International Volume 1.1) says:

‘Although it has not achieved the results expected by many people, the programme did call people’s attention to the needs of gifted and talented children.’

Another 1985 paper published by Wu, also in Gifted and Talented International (Evaluation of Educational Programmes for Intellectually Gifted Students in Junior High Schools in the Republic of China) adds that, in 1978, the Ministry of Education asked a team at the National Taiwan Normal University to evaluate the pilot as it then operated, in 18 classes drawn from six participating schools.

They were to focus particularly on academic achievement in Chinese and maths, intelligence, anxiety and self-concept. Outcomes were assessed against a comparison group drawn from ordinary classes in the same areas.

Overall, the conclusion rather damns with faint praise:

‘The result has been somewhat satisfactory’.

More specifically, the evaluators found a positive impact on achievement in Chinese and maths, while those in the gifted classes showed less general anxiety but higher test anxiety and had poorer self-concept.

‘Generally speaking the advantages of the gifted education programmes seemed to exceed their disadvantages’

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Junior High School Pilots

In 1979, however, the pilot was extended to junior high schools. Wu and Lin explain that government guidelines were published in 1980, providing for redesign of the elementary school pilots as well as extension to the junior highs.

The guidelines set out four aims:

  • To study learners’ intellectual characteristics and creative abilities
  • To develop suitable curriculum and teaching methods
  • To support personal development (‘an integrated and healthy personality’) and so
  • ‘Determine a suitable educational system for gifted students’.

The guidelines specified that two full-time teachers should be deployed in every elementary school gifted class, and three in every junior high school class. No class should contain more than 30 pupils.

A separate class was to be provided where there were enough pupils who met the selection criteria. When there were too few pupils for this purpose, they should stay in their normal class but have access to a ‘special resource classroom’ where they might benefit from supplementary teaching and specially designed materials. Such resource classrooms were often operational after the end of the normal school day.

Participants should be identified through multiple criteria including teacher and parental recommendation, individual and group intelligence tests, as well as tests of aptitude and creativity.

One source suggests that pupils attending resource classrooms should be accelerated by one grade, especially in science, maths and languages, but there is no further reference to this.

Moreover, the guidelines advocated an ‘enrichment approach’ designed to expand learners’ knowledge and understanding. Teachers were encouraged to develop supplementary resources to complement the standard textbooks, to use creative teaching methods and problem-solving strategies. Additional activities – research, field trips, sport and recreation – were to be available during the summer and winter holidays.

Teachers were expected to undertake specialist training, while area-based expert ‘consultation groups’ were to support programme development and evaluation.

By 1981, one source says 36 elementary and 19 junior high schools were involved in these various pilot programmes involving over 3,000 learners. Another source gives different figures – 69 schools, 362 teachers and 5,055 students – while a third provides different figures again (these are included in Table 1 below)

Two evaluation teams visited twelve participating schools in the final year of the junior high school pilot. Eight of the twelve offered special classes and four had resource classrooms.

Six focused on ‘general intellectual development’ while four specialised in maths and science and two in languages.

Of the 1,000 students covered by the evaluation, 814 were in special classes and 274 in resource classrooms. The evaluators randomly selected comparison groups.

They were asked to assess:

  • Impact on achievement, creative thinking and personal adjustment;
  • The comparative effectiveness of special classes and resource classrooms; and
  • Obstacles to effective implementation.

They found that emphasis on additional enrichment declined as students approached their all-important entrance examinations for senior high school. Overall benefits were proportionately greater for younger students. Most schools tended to place too much emphasis on imparting knowledge and too little on cultivating creative, leadership and communication skills.

Some less motivated learners were permitted to remain in special classes and this caused problems, while on the other hand ‘homeroom teachers were reluctant to let the truly gifted go to the special class’.

Resource classrooms created more problems for administrators, including timetabling and deployment issues. Almost half of the teachers had no formal training in gifted education.

Parents were generally supportive but were ‘preoccupied with the idea that entering the best senior high school was the best thing for their children’. This placed pressure on the schools and influenced teaching.

Parents were also concerned that the resource class model imposed excessive workload because the children had to complete work for two teachers rather than one. Learners – including those attending resource classes – preferred the special classes for the same reason.

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Other developments

Wu explains that pilot programmes were extended into senior high schools when a third phase was begun in 1982, but these were confined to maths and science. The elementary and junior high pilot activity continued alongside.

The Ministry of Education had already established a ‘Sunshine Summer Camp’ in 1980, run by the Special Education Center at National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU). It offered junior high school students from Taipei and its surrounding area a two week programme comprising university-based study, group counselling, problem-solving, leadership training, sports and recreational activities. Additional camps supported by various universities and colleges also developed during this period.

In 1983 the Ministry introduced a separate national talent search programme for exceptionally gifted pupils in maths, physics and chemistry. This enabled school age students to be admitted early to university without taking entrance examinations. Participants were selected following a week-long science camp at NTNU.

In the first round in 1983, 34 students from 9th Grade and 12 from 12th Grade were selected. By 1988, this had increased to 467 9th Grade and 211 12th Grade students. Almost 1,000 candidates attended the initial camps.

Also in 1983 the Ministry introduced measures to allow elementary school pupils to complete the curriculum a year early by skipping or telescoping grades. In the first year 40 pupils entered junior high schools early.

Support for those talented in music, fine arts, dance and sports had been expanded progressively since 1973, with continuing involvement from private schools. During that year, one Taipei elementary school and two in Taichung began to run separate classes for musically talented learners.

By 1980, funded music provision began to be extended to a few public senior high schools and, from the following year, similar provision was developed in fine arts, dance, and sports. Ministry sources add that students could for the first time obtain exemption from entrance examinations.

Special education centres were formed at two National Teachers Colleges and at NTNU (the latter in 1974) to promote and support the emerging national gifted programme. These were subsequently extended to eight provincial normal colleges. Such centres supported interaction between researchers and teachers.

In 1973 the Ministry also began to publish a Gifted Education Monograph (elsewhere called the Research Bulletin of Gifted Education). In 1981 NTNU launched its own periodical ‘Gifted Education Quarterly’.

In 1981, Lin and Wu highlighted some of the outstanding issues then facing Taiwanese gifted education. These included:

  • Improving knowledge and understanding of gifted education and developing positive attitudes towards gifted learners. There is concern that too much pressure is placed upon them.
  • Introducing a broader concept of giftedness, extending a predominantly intellectual focus to embrace leadership, creative and psychomotor skills.
  • Developing a system-wide approach to gifted education covering all sectors and addressing obstacles associated with inflexible examinations and grading systems.
  • Improving professional development for specialist teachers who typically attend course of 4-12 weeks’ duration. Teacher selection, course content and subsequent networking all need attention. Improved coverage in initial teacher education may also be needed.

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Spirited Away courtesy of Direct Positive

Spirited Away courtesy of Direct Positive

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Expansion following the 1984 Special Education Law

 

The Shape of the System

Wu is again responsible for much of the available analysis during this period.

On at least two occasions – in1992 and 2000 respectively – he utilises a framework first articulated by his compatriot Wang in a 1992 paper ‘A survey on related problems and teaching strategies in gifted education program in Taiwan’.

The breaks down the ‘operational system’ into three levels:

  • Supervisory level, including policy, legislation and guidance, responsible ‘administrative organisations and research;
  • Implementation level, including identification, placement, supply of teachers, curriculum, pedagogy and teaching materials;
  • Resource level, covering parental and community involvement and the contribution of the private sector.

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Framework for analysis of Taiwan's gifted education Capture

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I have adopted a similar framework for this analysis, adding material from other sources and highlighting changes of emphasis and detail between them. Wu and others devote significantly more attention to the first two of these categories, providing relatively little material about the ‘Resource level’.

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Supervisory

Chapter 2 of the 1984 Special Education Law (SEL) was devoted to gifted education, setting out definitions, identification procedures, placement arrangements, curriculum design, support, teacher development and allocation of resources.

It formally divided Taiwan’s gifted learners into three distinct categories:

  • those with general abilities (the intellectually gifted)
  • those with scholastic aptitude in particular academic disciplines (maths, science, language etc) and
  • those with special talents (music, fine arts, drama, dance and sport)

Under the terms of the legislation, the first category above is called ‘gifted’ while the second and third are called ‘talented’.

The SEL added more flexibility to the 1983 acceleration reforms, enabling highly gifted learners to skip more than one grade at each level of the education system (primary, junior high, senior high and university).

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Implementation

In his 1992 paper (pp 415-424) Wu has relatively little to say about the supervisory level, but describes the different elements of the implementation level thus:

  • Identification: intellectually gifted learners are screened at school level through teacher observation, evidence of achievement and the outcomes of group intelligence tests. Those falling within the top 10% take several more group and individual tests (including the Stanford-Binet, WISC-R, Raven’s Matrices and Torrance Test of Creative Thinking). These are administered at the students’ schools but under the supervision of ‘the university guidance institute’. Although described as a ‘multi-assessment procedure’ it is clear that possession of an IQ measure above 130 is the basic selection criterion.

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Identification process Capture

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For those with artistic or musical talent, selection generally involves auditions and aptitude tests, though there seems an expectation that successful candidates will also possess ‘a higher than average IQ’.

  • Programme design: although overarching curricular goals are set by central government, gifted programmes are locally determined by schools with support from colleges and universities. Refinements are introduced in the light of monitoring meetings involving both teachers and experts. Examples of issues addressed include the design of follow-up and evaluation studies and the content of summer enrichment activities. There is strong emphasis on enrichment and use of ‘creative teaching methods’ such as peer-tutoring, debates, experiments and games. Students undertake their own research projects drawing on independent study. Teachers are facilitators and guides. Affective development is not neglected – Wu uses as an example arrangements whereby gifted learners provide peer tutoring to low achieving peers.

‘Consequently, gifted children develop not only a gifted mind but, more importantly, a tender and loving heart.’

Opportunities for acceleration have increased, including provision for students in school to take university science courses at weekends under the National Science Council’s College Pre-Enrolling Project.

  • Teacher development: Certification as a teacher of gifted education depends on completion of 20 hours of professional development. This may be accumulated through weekend, summer and week-long term-time courses. The Ministry of Education pays for Government staff and academics to access training and conferences abroad. It also sends teams to review practice in other countries.
  • Resources: Schools receive government funding to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in gifted classes and to develop teaching materials, upgrade classrooms and buy necessary equipment. They utilise trips to local libraries, museums and broadcasters. Nevertheless, many need to raise additional funds from commercial sources or through the parents’ association. This can mean that different schools have different levels of support, and that some gifted programmes are better resourced than other parts of a school. There is an increasing supply of books and materials from city or county-level education authorities and commercial publishers.

It is perhaps also worth mentioning that Taiwan’s involvement with the international Olympiad movement dates from this era. From 1992 they participated in the 33rd International Maths Olympiad (IMO) and in the International Chemistry Olympiad (ICO). From 1994 they also took part in the International Physics Olympiad (IPO).

Selection for the science Olympiads was based on a national talent search undertaken by NTNU with Ministry of Education sponsorship. Candidates took part in a 9-day science camp and finalists attended a ‘semi-intensive’ training camp for one month before the competition.

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Resource

In his 1992 treatment, Wu notes that several holiday programmes have been developed in the private sector:

‘For instances, the Chinese Youth Summer Camp, Audio-visual Library, Learning Camp, Computer Camp, Recreation Camp, and Chorus and Orchestra Clubs were among the programmes sponsored by these organizations in the past.’

Parental involvement seems to be confined principally to financial donations and voluntary activity.

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Problems and Issues

In a 1989 paper ‘Cultivating Genius’ Wu sets out some of the issues being experienced midway through this period.

  • By 1989, the separate self-contained gifted class have become significantly more common than the ‘resource class’ approach, though the Ministry has recently concentrated on increasing the number of resource classes. Research has identified strengths and weaknesses in each model. Though parents tend to favour separate classes, these are more costly and some schools have insufficient funding to offer them. Evaluation suggests that the separate classes improve both academic achievement and creative thinking, but some experts believe that students ‘do not learn to adjust socially or interact smoothly with mainstream pupils’. On the other hand, pupils in resource classes ‘are often regarded as “unusual specimens” both by the teachers and by their peers’.
  • Continuity has become an issue since many learners in elementary-level special classes have no progression route into similar classes at junior high school. This can cause ‘a difficult readjustment’. Though a new junior and senior high school programme has been introduced, it has not yet been fully implemented.
  • Parents remain fixated on the senior high school entrance examinations, the results of which determine which school students can attend. These exams are:

‘highly structured affairs that reward diligent study of prescribed texts and prodigious feats of memorisation…Parents therefore do not want their gifted children to risk failure by taking class work not specifically designed to pass this key examination—better to follow the complex structured curriculum than be too creative and study materials “useless” for the exams!’

This attitude also inhibits teachers from using creative teaching methods.

  • The 20 credit hours required for certification of gifted education teachers is too little. Teachers are challenged by the speed with which their students ‘consume’ material they have prepared and ‘have every right to complain of overwork’. Because they must also show that special classes are worth the investment made by the school, many ‘push their pupils to struggle for first place in every academic contest possible’. The Government has taken steps to increase the supply of qualified staff, since class sizes of 30 are proving too big.

Although there are positive signs of progress – research is focused on improving teacher education and assessment of student attitudes; curriculum reforms are seeking to balance the requirements of the senior high school entrance exam against more interesting content – experts are pressing the Government to adopt a more robust long-term gifted education policy.

By 1992, Wu’s list of issues is slightly different, including:

  • A need to expand the programme to train those with different talents that contribute to society;
  • Developing progression routes to senior high schools that do not depend on the entrance examinations;
  • The evaluation of the wide variety of accelerative models that have emerged;
  • An expectation that expansion of the resource room model, rather than the special class model, will continue because it ‘has been supported by some educators and most administrators’;
  • A need to introduce more robust and systematic evaluations of gifted programmes;
  • A continuing need to secure an integrated approach across elementary, junior and senior high schools, and also the integration of pre-school programmes, learning from examples in the private sector.
  • Support for twice-exceptional students and
  • Giving top priority to ‘providing the gifted students with a conducive, ecological environment. Just as a sprout needs nutrients to grow, ecological resources are called for in order for the gifted to have their potential fully developed’.

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The Size and Growth of the Programme

Tables 1 and 2 below show the rate of growth of Taiwan’s gifted education programme during this period. They are compiled from various different sources but all the figures agree (except the one marked *). However, as we have seen, there are at least three different versions of the earliest figures for 1981!

Table 1 shows that, whereas gifted students outnumbered their talented peers in 1981 and the proportions were broadly equal in 1984, the number of talented students grew more rapidly and subsequently became significantly larger.

It is also evident that, while increases in numbers were substantial in the 1980s and early 1990s, there had been a significant slowing of expansion by 1997.

1981 1984 1987 1991 1997
Gifted 3475 4490 6356 9846 10090
(+29%) (+42%) (+55%) (+2%)
Talented 2366 4347 7404 16167 22479
(+84%) (+70%) (+118%) (+39%)
Total 5841 8837 13760 26013 32569*
(+51%) (+56%) (+89%) (+25%)

Table 1: Numbers of Gifted and Talented Students 1981-1997

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Table 2 shows that the number of gifted/talented students increased most rapidly in senior high schools over this period but, by 1997, elementary schools were enjoying a relatively faster rate of expansion.

1987 1991 1997
Elementary Schools 144 171
Classes 460
Students 7061 11860 15070
(+40%) (+27%)
Junior High Schools 117 142
Classes 344
Students 4999 10266 11334
(+105%) (+10%)
Senior High Schools 46 90
Classes 120
Students 1700 3887 6182
(+129%) (+59%)
Total Schools 175 307 403
Classes 506 924 1223
Students 13760 26013 32586*
(+89%) (+25%)

Table 2: Numbers of Gifted/Talented Schools, Classes and Students by Sector, 1987-1997

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Other data snippets:

  • By 1987, Taiwan’s overall student population was around 3.6m, of which 3% were assumed to be gifted/talented, but only 13% of the latter were supported by gifted and talented programmes; by 1991, around 0.6% the total student population was supported in gifted and talented programmes.
  • In 1991 the balance between male and female participants in gifted programmes was 57% female and 43% male; by 1997, the differential had increased to 18% (59% female and 41% male).
  • From 1995 to 2000, the rate of increase in gifted students fell to around  3% per year, mainly because, according to Wu:

‘In the wake of recent increased demands for educational reform in Taiwan, public attention has placed much more emphasis on the special educational needs of children with disabilities than on the gifted/talented. Gifted education seems to have been left out and it is not even mentioned in the “Final Report of Educational Reform” (Executive Yuan, R.O.C., 1996). On the other hand, “education for the disabled” has been highlighted and very well funded.

This marks the end of Part One. In Part Two we shall explore the development of Taiwanese gifted education since the turn of the Twenty-First Century.

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GP

February 2013