Patrick B. McGuigan | November 1, 2008

'Parents Who Trust Us'

Patrick B. McGuigan

An OCPA research fellow brings home lessons from Taiwan on education policy: ‘Take the dollars and use them for education’—whether the schools are public or private.

TAIPEI, Taiwan—For the sake of better education on the island of Taiwan, families with five-year-old children studying in private kindergartens are given educational vouchers.

In an interview last month at his office in Taipei, Dr. Chang-Yu Yang, director of the Elementary Education Department at the Ministry of Education, explained that Taiwan’s program for educational choice has been in effect since 2000. In a country where per capita personal income is about 17,000 U.S. dollars per year, support is limited to about 307 U.S. dollars per year.


And support for educational choice is not limited to kindergarten. In senior high school education, “the government provides subsidies rather than educational vouchers,” Dr. Yang told me. “Each student studying at private high schools receives an educational subsidy” worth about 154 U.S. dollars per year.

However, those families whose annual income is lower than roughly 9,210 U.S. dollars receive a larger private-education subsidy, worth approximately 1,044 U.S. dollars. “The purpose of the subsidy,” Dr. Yang told me, “is to lower the financial gap between public and private senior high school education and reduce the family’s education burden.”

Today, Taiwan has a representative government, and one of the world’s most vibrant economies. It is governed by popularly elected successors to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the George Washington of his nation, who led a mainland Chinese revolution that led to the fall of the ancient regime and the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC) on January 1, 1912.

Anti-communist nationalists fled from the mainland in 1949, taking the ROC government with them. After decades of authoritarian rule under the late Chiang Kai-shek, Taiwan evolved into a true republic in the 1980s, after introduction of free-market reforms and creation of a vibrant modern economy with sustained growth. Indeed, in 2008 Taiwan ranks 25th among the 162 countries covered in the “Index of Economic Freedom” published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal (the United States is 5th).

This vibrancy is also reflected in educational statistics. About 40 percent of Taiwan’s population holds advanced degrees; 97 percent are literate, and English is widely spoken.

Supplementary Services

I also visited the Hwa-Yi Educational Organization, one of the most respected of the 3,000 supplementary education businesses that meet overwhelming market demand beyond the high-achieving public and private schools. While private-pay tutors and public after-hours schooling systems are certainly a factor in America, supplementary education is pervasive in Taiwan.

In an interview with Lin Jun Hou, general manager of the organization, and several of his colleagues, I heard echoed what many in Taiwan contend: “The private schools in Taiwan are doing a better job than others. They have whole organized systems that produce great results. They are very few. There are not enough of them.”

Asked what could be done to improve education results, Lin gave an answer that could be considered both liberal and conservative. He told me, “The percentage of the (national) budget devoted to education could be increased; and ways should be found to encourage the private sector to do more than it is already doing, to encourage private schools in order to accelerate more students along the way to excellence.”

Pressed to specify how government policy could be improved in a country where educational outcomes are already impressive, Lin said, “We hope the government could give rewards, some subsidies, other means of support to institutes like this, so more students in Taiwan could do better.”

The Haw-Yi Educational Organization was founded in 1989 by Her-Jer Shen. The group caters to different types of students with varying academic goals, according to Lin’s colleague, Kelly Chi. After attending regular schools (private or public) about eight hours a day, thousands of students come to Haw-Yi in Taipei for several hours of evening instruction, and then again for half-days (four to five hours) on Saturdays and Sundays.

Original of the four schools was the Her-Jer Math School, “a supplementary educational center to enhance senior high school students’ competence in math.” Over the past two decades, the school has helped 7,652 students gain admission to National Taiwan University, the best institution of higher education. Today, more than 4,000 youngsters go to the supplementary math school.

Hwa-Yi Junior High was founded in 2003 and now has about 300 students. It is characterized as “a multi-dimensional supplementary education center.”

The Fei-Fan English School, founded in 2004, aims at improving English competence for senior high schoolers, and has about 1,500 attendees. Concerning this arm of the institute, Lin says, “It is all the colleagues’ responsibility to cultivate our next generation’s competence, and it is expected that students from Fei-Fan School will be equipped with a broad international outlook and be ready to compete in the world.”

The fourth and newest Hwa-Yi unit is the Multi-Educational School, founded in 2005. Today it serves more than 1,000 senior high school students and covers all traditional academic subjects (Chinese, English, math, physics, chemistry, history, and geography). Lin said, “It has more than 1,000 students currently. It is our ultimate goal to cultivate elites in Taiwan and reconstruct the society.”

Summarizing Hwa-Yi’s goals, school leaders said, “It is hoped we can fulfill parents’ expectations, and it is our ultimate goal to take good care of children for parents who trust us.”

‘Lower the Financial Burden for Families’

Taiwanese education has traditionally resulted in a kind of tracking, which emerges in late primary and middle school years, and is firmly in place by high school. This has, however, assured a steady stream of highly educated university graduates as well as competent (including literate) workers in manufacturing and other fields. And, today, the educational leaders are consciously developing broader and more inclusive educational goals, reflected in policies supporting school choice.

As Dr. Yang said in the interview at the Ministry of Education, “The present education structure supports 22 years of formal study. Completion times are flexible, depending upon the needs of the students. The early childhood education [which is not compulsory] consists of two years of preschool education.” As he explained, “The fundamental compulsory education consists of six years of primary school and three years of junior high, or the nine-year integrated curriculum. Upon completion of compulsory education, students can choose to pursue an academic or vocational track.”

The system includes “three years vocational high school or five years junior college followed by two years of technical college if the students choose to stay in school.”

His comments on secondary education focused on “multi-opportunities for school entrance.” Supplementary and continuing education is explicitly referenced by the central government, as are the private systems, including private pre-schools and kindergartens. The government seeks registration but not control over those systems. Special education also has taxpayer support, but is addressed separately from the regular system.

Concerning future reforms, Director Yang supports “expansion of the voucher program into the other elementary years,” although this does not yet appear to be a priority. The stated near-term desire is to “narrow the gap” of opportunity between rich and poor people, and between public and private schools.

Yang emphasized that parents paying for private schools out of their own pockets deserve help. The government wants to “lower the financial burden for families who are achieving a good education for their children.” Although the system already has many programs designed to encourage parental involvement in school policy, the Ministry of Education is studying American charter schools and would like “to start similar systems here to assure creativity and choices” for children, parents, and families.

Dr. Yang and his top assistant, Li-Chuan Hsu, found perplexing my question about popular support for the kindergarten voucher. The only policy question of consequence, it seems, is whether or not wealthier people should also be able to access the vouchers.

“We have accepted this system” on Taiwan, Yang said. “I wouldn’t say it’s popular or non-popular. The object is to take the dollars and use them for education, and to help those who are economically challenged” get a good shot at quality education.

OCPA research fellow Patrick McGuigan (M.A. in history, Oklahoma State University) is an editor at The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in Oklahoma City. He is the author of two books and the editor of seven. A state-certified teacher, for two years he taught middle-school and high-school students at a public charter alternative school.

Patrick B. McGuigan

Independent Journalist

A member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, Patrick B. McGuigan is founder of CapitolBeatOK, an online news service, and editor of The City Sentinel, an independent newspaper. He is the author of three books and editor of seven, and has written extensively on education and other public policy issues.

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