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The Pressure for High Achievement in Taiwanese Education

by Fou-Lai Lin
November 2001 pressure 

A junior high school mathematics teacher proudly told me that she had successfully arranged for her seventh-grade students to remain at school until 9 p.m. twice a week to study mathematics and English. Local education authorities oppose arranging such out-of-school classes. A teacher's ability to establish an out-of-school "cramming" program therefore depends heavily on the cooperation of students' parents who support the program despite opposition by the authorities.

The percent of ministers with a Ph.D. degree in Taiwan's central government was recently as high as 50 percent to 70 percent. According to "A Survey on School Children's Learning and Everyday Life Situations," a survey by J. S. Huang (Taiwan: Ministry of Education, April 2001), approximately 22.5 percent of the 300,000 schoolchildren in each age group expect to complete a Ph.D. degree in the future. Indeed, in 2000 fewer than 3,000 Taiwanese received a Ph.D. Although no systematic study correlates the thought behind the contributors to these percents, the conclusion that Taiwan is a degree-driven society seems warranted. A degree diploma is not only a stepping-stone for beginning one's career but is also a valuable asset throughout a career. Huang also found that 74 percent of schoolchildren expect to obtain a university education. However, the capacity of the 160 four-year colleges in Taiwan is only about 30 percent for each age group in Taiwan. The difference between 74 percent and 30 percent for each age group creates a very competitive educational environment.

Parents and teachers work cooperatively to promote students' university and graduate education. The reality is that Taiwanese children have no choice but to attend out-of-school "cram" lessons or to receive private tutoring to achieve their expectation of a university education. The consequence of this circumstance is that students work very hard to pass examinations, which in turn puts considerable stress not only on the child but also on the child's family. It becomes a natural responsibility for parents to look for star teachers at good cram schools for their children. Thirteen-year-old Taiwanese students spend as many as 15 hours per week studying mathematics. The high performance of 13-year-old Taiwanese students on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is a result of those many hours spent at school and at the special "cramming" schools. The situation of the junior high school teacher described at the beginning of this essay reflects the situation in mathematics education in Taiwan.
 

 

Fou-Lai Lin is professor of mathematics education at National Taiwan Normal University. His primary interest and work centers on the education of preservice teachers, teacher development, and students' mathematics concept formation.

 

 

 

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