Thursday, January 31, 2008

Taiwan Moves from Meritocracy

In Taiwan, people strongly believe that education is the best way to improve social mobility and shorten the gap between the wealthy and the poor. The main reason is because of our entrance examination and tuition.

Junior high school graduates need to take an entrance exam to study in senior high school, and senior high school graduates need to take another entrance exam to study in college. Students have better opportunities to get a good job if they get a high grade that helps them to study in a good school and popular program. Their future job is a reward of their hard work. Diligent and smart students from low SES families have chances to move from lower to higher stratification. As a result, social mobility occurs through this mechanism.

Different levels of tuition also improve this social mobility. Tuition at national/public colleges is much cheaper than at private schools, and most of the top schools in Taiwan are national universities. Therefore, another reward for diligent and smart students is cheaper tuition.

When educational reform started ten years ago, however, it gradually undermined these mechanisms. Before this reform, exam scores were the only criteria that schools used to choose students. Now students have multiple routes to enter a college. They can either apply to a program or take the exam. If they win a prize in an international competition, such as International Mathematical Olympia, they will be recommended to the best school. This policy, however, results in rural-urban inequality. Students can take advantage of their cultural capital to outperform others. Parents also use their physical capital to send their children to all kinds of cram schools, even for Chinese and music!

In sum, though the entrance exam oversimplifies individual differences, this exam and tuition policy helps to reduce inequality.



Laurie Hansen said...

Chinshi, that is a really interesting example from Taiwan. I do have a question for you. When the system was based on the exam & cheap tuition, were roughly equal numbers of rural and urban students admitted to college? If that's the case, it implies that rural children had the same access to education (e.g., curriculum, books, quality teachers, facilities, etc.), which is amazing given the issues we have in our own system.

Chinhsi Lin said...

Regarding to your question, I would say "yes" because the admission rate to colleges is near 100% now in Taiwan. But I think when the rate was 50% or lower ten years ago, it was more equal than it is now. Feel surprised that how could this happen before the rate reaches to 100%? The plausible explanation is that our society becomes M-shaped society, differences of investment in education between affluent and poor families increase.