Taiwan’s public school system is available to the whole native population, as well as expats with residency status.
Whilst it is funded by the state, the cost of tuition is not wholly subsidised, although its fees are nominal when compared to private tuition. The official language of instruction in public schools is Mandarin Chinese, with English becoming an available subject from the 3rd grade.
For expats deciding on public vs private schooling, the length of stay, prefered teaching language, and curriculum will be important considerations.
Focus on grades and the sciences
A great deal of the schooling in Taiwan is focused on the attainment of grades in exams and places in top schools and universities. There is also a culture of streaming a proportion of pupils into vocational education from junior high school to ensure the growth in the skilled workforce.
Like other countries in East Asia, the school system has been criticised at various times for overemphasising maths and sciences, and a very strict pedagogic student-teacher relationship.
Recent government reforms to the public school system have attempted to address some of these issues, as national policy makers strive to make Taiwan’s students more competitive in an international context.
School semesters and typical days
The school year is divided into two semesters, the first beginning in September and ending in late January or early February depending on the timing of the Lunar New Year.
The second semester begins mid-February and runs until early June. Long schooling periods between holidays, and social pressure to achieve high grades in entrance exams for schools and colleges has made education in Taiwan seem daunting to outsiders.
A normal school day runs from early morning (typically 7:30am in elementary and junior high) to approximately 5pm. After this, a large proportion of the student body are enrolled in ‘cram schools’, private institutions which offer extra tuition in English, mathematics and science.