In its 2014 “White Paper on Human Resource Development [教育部人才培育白皮書],” Taiwan’s Ministry of Education suggests that Taiwan’s rapid social changes, overextended colleges and universities, and slower and slower birth rate are creating a gap between educational training and careers, and therefore an imbalance between human resource supply and demand. Taiwan’s government hopes to resolve these problems, in part, through a new a 12-year Curriculum for Basic Education, the development and implementation of which was announced in the White Paper. This “new curriculum” is intended to foster key competencies in future generations and in part to bolster and enhance Taiwan’s economic competitiveness.
This article will present a brief history of Taiwan’s recent educational reforms and will examine the current curriculum and challenges in its implementation. The new curriculum’s vision statement, titled “Facilitate Self-actualization, Adaptive Learning to Individual Fulfillment, and Life Long Learning,” is then presented and the new curriculum’s theme “Spontaneity, Interaction, Common Good” is also discussed. It is important to note that the new 12-year curriculum is still under review in Taiwan. The general guidelines were approved on October 6, 2014, and the detailed guidelines for individual academic fields will be completed, it is hoped, by the beginning of the 2018 academic year.
Nine-year compulsory education was implemented in Taiwan in 1968. As society and the economy have changed, a 12-year compulsory curriculum was developed and in 2010 the Ministry of Education announced that its development was completed and ready to implement. In 2011, the “Project of the Implementation of 12-year Basic Education [十二年國民基本教育實施計畫]” was audited and set to commence in 2014 – though as noted above the new curriculum itself is not yet being taught. The new curriculum aims to lead instruction in schools, give directions to students, clarify values, and prescribe certain actions (馮朝霖 et al., 2011). A reform of national curriculum concerns must not only attempt to envision the future, but also involves a dialogue on varieties of educational values and the choices amongst them (范信賢, 2010). In other words, a common understanding among a wide range of stakeholders is necessary.
An Examination of the Current Curriculum and its Ideas
To achieve understanding, the existing curriculum must be examined and its shortcomings identified. The following are areas of concerns of the current curriculum.
1. A need for better understanding of “empowering the learners to learn”: Currently in Taiwan, students’ individual preferences and strengths are not sufficiently appreciated and directed in productive ways. That is, in elementary and junior high schools in Taiwan, implementing the curriculum is based on ideas of “Learner-Centered Education.” Yet, in practice this seems to result merely in slogans or in allowing students to do as they please. Besides, the popular concept of increasing the nation’s competencies usually influences the education and leads to top-down processes so that self-actualization is worn down. According to 馮朝霖 et al. (2011), understanding of the basic human right to learn is either unpopular or not deep enough in Taiwan. People in general are either not aware of or do not appreciate the human nature to explore the world and its connection to education.
2. Problems of testing-oriented education: According to 陳麗華 et al. (2010), recent standardized test results indicate the shortcomings of Taiwan’s testing-oriented education. In 2006, only 4.7 percent of Taiwan students were reading at the highest level, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). One explanation is that testing-oriented education might have influenced the instruction styles and the way students think – that is, without the inclination or ability to read and think critically. Second, in studying the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) from 1997, 2003, and 2007, as well as research reports, these researchers found that in mathematics Taiwan students are generally among the most successful but their learning attitudes and levels of confidence are much lower than students’ in other areas such as Europe. Third, in science the knowledge level of Taiwan’s students was high, but there is room for improvement in reasoning, identifying issues, and utilizing evidence.
3. Too much lecturing, not enough action: 劉美慧 (2010) reports that civil education in Taiwan over-emphasizes cognition of lectures on topics such as society and the social system, but under-emphasizes ideas such as participation and action. In general, students would not be inspired to take part in civil events, and so the connection between knowledge and action are not close.
4. Gap between learning and the real world: One important function of schools is to connect the children to the real world (黃武雄, 2003). Yet, due to the testing-oriented system, instruction and materials do not connect the learners to their environment. Thereafter, learning by doing is usually not an option. Second, in vocational education academic learning is over-emphasized, which leads to insufficient preparation as vocational school students enter the next level (人才培育指導委員會,2013; 李隆盛 et al., 2011). In high schools, students reveal learning fatigue, lack of motivation to read, and lack of stamina (潘慧玲 et al., 2011).
Given these shortcomings, many have felt that a new curriculum is required. Designing and implementing one is a major undertaking. A number of factors must be considered and challenges overcome in finalizing and implementing the 12-year Curriculum for Basic Education. These include:
1. Continuity and Integrity: A major challenge in expanding from a nine-year to a 12-year curriculum is to reorganize the contents in each individual academic field so that the knowledge and skills to be taught are arranged in a reasonable way. At the same time the individual fields must be connected in some way, so that learners’ experiences and understanding will not fall into discrete and irrelevant pieces. It is hoped that later the learners will be able to make use of what they learn in their daily life.
2. The curriculum structure: Planners must also reorganize individual academic fields within a reasonable timeframe without adding extra hours to schooling. Also, allocating time for each individual subject within an academic field is a challenge.
3. Experimenting on the new curriculum: Experimenting on the new curriculum to ensure its high quality will be a challenge. Phases of formulating, constructing, and experimenting on the new curriculum must commence both separately and simultaneously, and must not add too many extra hours to school staffs’ working hours.
4. Pedagogy and instruction resources: Planners must also update pedagogy strategies, develop innovative new materials, and create a platform of instruction resources. All must be compatible with the new curriculum.
5. Support systems: Another challenge is related to the different levels of learners’ learning assistances provided by local schools, districts, and the central government. Communication and promotion of the new curriculum must also be undertaken.
Considering these challenges, the initial task in developing the 12-year curriculum is to consider what kind of educational vision and curriculum ideas are needed, which is explored in next sections.
The Vision of the newly drafted 12-year Curriculum for Basic Education in Taiwan
In 2008 Taiwan’s National Academy for Educational Research (NAER) began several preliminary research projects on elementary and high school education, including international trends, analysis of the current status of Taiwan’s education system, and theoretical analysis. The vision statement, titled “Facilitate Self-actualization, Adaptive Learning to Individual Fulfillment, and Life Long Learning,” of the current draft of the 12-year Curriculum for Basic Education is based in part on this research.
As this indicates, the education field Taiwan is shifting the focus of its attention from how teachers teach to the learning of the learners, and the new curriculum is based on goals, missions, and values which place learners at the center. This shift is grounded in law. Article 3 of Taiwan’s “Educational Fundamental Act [教育基本法]” prescribes that “Education should be implemented under such principles that discriminate against none and cater to the specific nature of the individual, embrace the spirits of humanities and sciences, respect for values of humanity, strive for the development of potential in the individual while cultivating sociability, and help the individual in his/her pursuit of self-realization.” The “Primary and Junior High School Act [國民教育法],” states that “primary and junior high school education is aimed at the moral, cognitive, physical, social, and aesthetic development of the citizens (Article 1),” and that “Primary and junior high school curricula shall be centered on providing an education nurturing national spirit and life, with the development of a wholesome body and mind as a further objective (Article 7).” The draft “Senior High School Act [高級中等教育法草案],” also aims at cultivating both the mind and the body of Taiwan’s youth, creating generations with robust civil competency, developing the potential of diverse learners, and establishing knowledge and skills for academic research or for future professions. In a word, the legal foundation of Taiwan’s education directs the new curriculum to probe learners’ potentials which are to facilitate, to self-actualize, and to cultivate mental and physical health.
As mentioned above, the Ministry of Education’s 2014 “White Paper on Human Resource Development” indicates that the development and implementation of the 12-year curriculum is one of Taiwan’s major means of fostering key competency of the next generations. It places an emphasis on adaptive education, a variety of choices for advanced learning, and guidance to suitable careers. This is line with international trends. UNESCO’s Dark Framework for Action, published in 2000, states that “Education for All [EFA] is a basic human right at the heart of development. It must be a national and international priority, and it requires a strong and sustained political commitment, enhanced financial allocations and the participation of all EFA partners in the processes of policy design, strategic planning and the implementation of programmes (p. 17).” Taiwan’s education planners considered the ideas and spirits of curriculum guidelines of many other countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Finland, and New Zealand. While the visions presented in these documents defy easy summary, a few similar directions can be identified, including that learning must be about the learners, the curriculum should emphasize probing the potentials of the learners, individual differences and interests must be attended to, and training in a variety of skills for different careers should be available. It is hoped that the schooling process will create lifelong learners who shoulder their civil responsibilities. To fulfill this, learner must be self-actualized.
Ideas of the 12-year Curriculum for Basic Education in Taiwan
As the vision of the new curriculum is developed, its three ideas of “spontaneity, interaction, common good” are synthesized with reference to the educational ideas of John Dewey (1938), postmodernism, and complex thought (Morin, 1999/1993). At least two of Dewey’s educational ideas are relevant to Taiwan. First, considering that the educational process is also the process of growing up, schooling experiences should facilitate the learners to fully fulfill their potentials. In order to do this, schooling should aim to inspire rather than to control (林秀珍, 2007; 陳峰津, 2011). Second, learning experiences – like experiences of other kinds – are created through interaction (Dewey, 1938, p.42). It is therefore essential to regard schooling experiences as an interactive process.
The application of the three ideas of “spontaneity, interaction, common good” in Taiwan is outlined by 蔡清田 et al. (2011). Spontaneity refers to individual children’s self-learning ability, ability to think systematically to solve problems, to plan and execute, and to innovate and improvise when faced with ever changing situations. Interaction refers to the ability to communicate and express so that the each individual self, namely the learner, is aware of the world outside of self, such as other people, the environment, or school cultures. Thus, Taiwan’s new curriculum will seek to give students a frame of reference for approaching and understanding the world around them. Third, common good or symbiosis, refers to the idea that learning is not for just oneself. Variety is not only valuable, but necessary, and students should be enabled to care about the health of society and the world, not only themselves and their immediate circles.
As noted above, this overhaul of the education curriculum is one of interventions that Taiwan’s government is undertaking to improve the nation’s international competitiveness. The general idea is to cultivate better human resources. In education, it is to fully self-actualize every child to his or her best. In a word, when the people in Taiwan are healthy and competitive, Taiwan will be a healthy and competitive country.
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 Approved by the authors, this article is a revised version of the article, “The Curriculum Vision and Idea of 12-year Compulsory Education,” published in Journal of Education Research [教育研究月刊] in 2013.
Esther Care, an education expert at the Brookings Institution, calls the A-F grading system “nonsense.” “Grades are mere proxies for what we value. What we actually value is our children being prepared for the future,” she said. “We need to find ways in educational assessment to convey information about the degree to which they are ready to venture out and to deal constructively with the huge challenges posed by our 21st century.