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Taipei to Continue Innovative Experimental Education, Mayor Promises at Education Exhibition

*At the Taipei Innovative Experimental Education Outcomes Exhibition on March 4, Mayor Ko Wen-je argued that education is still the most fundamental way to change a country.
The reason Taiwan’s economy has fallen behind over the past two decades is that the country’s industrial upgrades have failed, Mayor Ko said. In the labor-intensive era, when Taiwan was an OEM and ODM manufacturing and exporting base, the country needed and trained large numbers of skilled workers, while less people were trained as managers and entrepreneurs, as there was less need for that type of professional.
However, Ko continued, the industrial landscape has changed dramatically. These days, labor-intensive production has moved to Vietnam, Indonesia, and India. Therefore, Taiwan’s challenge is to find a new position and role for itself in the global industrial chain. The island must transition from a labor-intensive industry model to a knowledge-intensive one, and in this process, innovation has an important role to play—which is why we are here today discussing experimental education.
Innovative industry must train students in strengthening creativity, Mayor Ko argued. The current cookie-cutter educational culture is problematic. Educators should regard students as livestock to be raised in a healthy way, rather than, so to speak, as useful yet inorganic minerals to be dug up and used. The entire education system is in need of a fundamental transformation.
At the beginning of his tenure, there was little experimental education, the mayor recalled, adding that he would not have thought that a school like Taipei Heping Experimental Elementary School, the country’s first public experimental school, would be as successful as it is today. This success led the transformation of Taipei Fanghe Municipal Experimental Junior High School to become the first publicly managed public junior high school. The City will continue to promote innovative experimental education in the future, he said, adding his estimate that the city needs about five experimental elementary schools and three experimental junior high schools.
Mayor Ko underscored that experimental education does not need to apply to all students. The actual goal lies in the ballpark of 3-5% of the student population. The city government’s way forward is to add one or two experimental elementary schools per year until the 3% goal has been met. Taipei Municipal Fanghe Experimental High School, established today, will hopefully transition to fully-fledged experimental education in the future, stretching the model from junior high up to the senior high school. Combined with Heping, this would give the city a living “proof of concept” of experimental education within the country’s public education system.
Taipei is the leading sheep of the herd, Mayor Ko noted, adding that this entailed two important concepts: firstly, that the city government exists to serve the citizens, so it must transform itself from a management-and-control-oriented organization to a service-oriented organization. Secondly, Taipei is a leader in urban innovation, which is essential if Taiwan is to reinvent itself.
Recalling his recent visit to Israel, Mayor Ko mentioned the fact that the Mediterranean “innovation nation” has more startups listed on NASDAQ in the United States than all of the European Union countries combined, even when Israel’s population of 9 million is only a sliver of the EU’s half a billion people. Interestingly, Israel’s education doesn’t rank high in international surveys—about the same as Taiwan—but the country has produced twelve Nobel Prize winners since its founding in 1948.
Mayor Ko said that Taiwan’s education is about counting hours, but more isn’t necessarily better. Even when our elementary and high schools rank quite well internationally, the country has produced only one Nobel Prize recipient, lagging far behind a small country like Israel. In terms of innovative start-ups, and being listed on American stock exchanges, we are a far cry from the Land of Milk and Honey.
The mayor concluded by saying that as Taiwan must transition from a labor-intensive to a knowledge-intensive economy, and if it seriously pursues development in that direction, the government must rethink its education system and view students in a new light, as living beings that need nurturing to grow and flourish. Only then will we have a diverse and rich society, and that is what he is endeavoring to achieve.