While schools in Taiwan and Mainland China have similarities, especially in the rigorousness of education systems, some things still set them apart. Every country has its unique education system, even if it may seem comparable to another at first glance. You’ll find that schools in Taiwan and Mainland China are vastly different from what you may be used to in the US, but that’s what makes it so interesting! Taiwan’s attitude toward education has its influences from early philosophers, and we’ll also explore how Mainland China’s education system is shifting in today’s climate. Below are 5 differences between schools in Taiwan and Schools in Mainland China.
Differences Between Schools in Taiwan and Schools in Mainland China
From an outsider’s perspective, the Chinese that Taiwanese people and Chinese people speak may seem similar enough, but there are minor cadences and uses of language that differ between the two. For example, in Taiwan, Qing Cai (literally ‘green vegetable’) refers to all vegetables. In Mainland China, however, Qing Cai is the name for a specific type of dark, leafy green vegetable. If you ever find yourself traveling to either country, you made find yourself due for some funny surprises! That’s the beauty of language learning: making silly mistakes.
The Chinese spoken in Taiwan is generally referred to as Mandarin Chinese and it was named Taiwan’s official language in 1945. 台语 (Tai Yu), aka Taiwanese, is also spoken in Taiwan, although they are not actively taught in schools. The wide range of regional dialects in Mainland China is also more commonly spoken among older generations.
There is also a difference in the written word. In Taiwan, students learn Traditional Chinese which is closer to old Chinese, whereas Simplified Chinese is taught and used in Chinese schools. Traditional Chinese has more Bi Hua, aka strokes than Simplified Chinese. To illustrate: Bi Hua in Traditional Chinese is 筆畫. In Simplified Chinese, it’s 笔画. That is why Simplified Chinese was actually established in the 1950s to promote literacy among Chinese citizens. Given its resemblance to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese and Mandarin Chinese are considered the only modern pictographic language.
You’ll see a lot more cultural diversity in Taiwanese schools than in Chinese schools. This is simply due to the fact that there are several indigenous tribes in Taiwan. Taiwanese Hokkien is spoken by 70% of the population and Hakka is spoken by 13%. In general, Confucianism and Taoism are more prevalent in Taiwan than in Mainland China. Other religions seen in Taiwan include Buddhism, Daoism, Mormonism, and Christianity. Taiwan and Mainland China have many overlapping holidays and cultural practices, but some of them differ and/or fall on different dates.
For example, Taiwan’s Teachers’ Day is on September 28 and Mainland China’s is on September 10. Morality and ancestral worship are strongly emphasized in Taiwan and in both countries, the social respect for teachers is higher than in Western countries. How this translates into the classroom environment is that students rarely challenge their teacher’s ideologies. Although, teachers often discuss and reflect on their teachings amongst themselves and grade assignments together. This is due to Taiwan’s Confucian influence. In his teachings, Confucius encouraged scholars to reflect on their teachings and work collaboratively.
In your teaching environment in the US, you may be used to a highly participative classroom where students voice their opinions, but this is not the case in Taiwanese and Chinese schools. The school environment aspect is probably the area where the two are most similar. A test-oriented education system can be seen in Taiwanese and Chinese schools. Standardized tests are common whereas you may be more familiar with open-ended tests and/or discussions. As reported by the Borgen Project, graduates coming out of the Taiwanese educational system actually achieve the highest scores, internationally speaking.
However, there is a heavy focus on memorization and rigid instruction that leaves little room for creativity and individuality. It’s the same, or maybe even more so for Chinese schools, and it’s often a point of criticism from Western establishments or more liberal parents. In Chinese schools, students are not allowed to sit back and relax in their chairs during class and are expected to raise their hands in a certain way. The teaching style is quite authoritative, so facilitator or delegator-type teaching styles are virtually nonexistent.
You may be asking yourself: what are Taiwan and Mainland China doing to ease their grade-oriented definition of academic achievement? Well, Taiwan actually included exam-free pathways through reforms in 2014, making education and the arts more accessible for disadvantaged groups. In 2021, the Chinese government imposed a ban on tutoring firms to make room for more recreational activities.
Naturally, the ban gave rise to parental concerns over where China’s next generation of leading scientists and mathematicians were going to come from. One other reason for the ban is to lower the cost of parenting since Mainland China is currently facing a crisis regarding falling birth rates and an aging population.
Schools in Taiwan and Mainland China typically run from September to June or July with a Chinese/Lunar New Year break in late January or early February, depending on the year. While both countries have vocational schools, it is more common in Taiwan. Students can either attend the full four years of high school or two years of high school and two years of vocational school. Earlier this year though, the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE) revised a law to promote vocational schools. The school hours in Taiwan and Mainland China are pretty similar, running from 8 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. depending on the school.
Both Taiwanese and Chinese schools require students to wear uniforms, although they differ significantly. The uniforms you’ll see in Taiwanese schools are generally more preppy and similar to uniforms you’d see in US private schools. The uniforms in Chinese schools are essentially tracksuits designed with the school’s colors. Comfort over style, as some would say.
As you can see, countries that may be deemed “similar” hold intricate distinctions from one another. Just as citizens in the US and UK speak the same language, there are colloquialisms used in the UK that Americans do not use. It is the same in Taiwan and Mainland China. Considering the history between the two countries, the diversity of cultures and the deviation of traditions can also be observed. The learning and teaching environments in Taiwan and Mainland China stem from the same type of authoritative philosophy, but there are still slight variations.
Reading about it may have been a shock to some of you, especially if you weren’t familiar with schools in Taiwan and Mainland China before. Of course, some things have changed in recent years, but many educational principles remain. School schedules in Taiwan and Mainland China are also mostly similar. However, the uniforms are vastly dissimilar and it’s something that may not have come to mind when you first thought of the notable differences.
If you are interested in taking your students on a school trip to Taiwan or Mainland China, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out more of our blog posts.