Culture and Special Education in Taiwan

Article excerpt

Special Education Around the World

What are the characteristics and qualities of special education services in Taiwan? In this article, we provide summaries of two recent surveys conducted in Taiwan (Kang, 2001; Kang, Haring, & Lovett, 2001):

* The first survey was a needs assessment completed by 134 directors of early childhood programs.

* The second survey was completed by 109 parents of young children (birth to 7 years old) in early intervention or early childhood programs who were receiving special educational services.

We have presented the survey results within a historical context, with particular attention to the way traditional culture affects special education services.

Historical Foundations

In Taiwan, people have viewed education with deep respect for centuries; however, this respect has not always carried over to the education of students with disabilities. Historically, China developed an educational system based on classical texts that were open to all, and advancement was based on the individual student's ability to pass standard examinations. Thus, without regard to a person's station in life or social status, a student could advance through his or her own efforts to learn. The only major limitations were the individual's own intellect, discipline, and desire.

For more than 25 centuries, the Chinese people have been guided by the teachings of Confucius in both their societal and personal development. The basic principle of Confucian philosophy is to develop the human personality to its fullest extent (Chen, Seitz, & Cheng, 1991). Confucius's teachings center on the development of proper relations among people by educating individuals on how to live moral, harmonious, and peaceful lives. The essence of Confucianism is to provide all people with an education that includes both basic knowledge and moral precepts.

Current Special Education Efforts

In 1984, Taiwan mandated early childhood special education. Even though Taiwan's early childhood special education program has existed for well over 10 years, little research exists on the nature of early childhood special education services. Available research showed that because of lack of information and resources, most young children with severe disabilities remained at home and did not receive educational services (The Red Cross Society of China, R.O.C., 1990). Few young children with disabilities went to special preschools, hospitals, social welfare institutions, or organizations to receive available education or therapy (Wang, 1996).

Disconnected educational, medical, and social programs, each providing separate services, may compound the problems of the child and the family (Wang, 1993). For example, doctors or therapists provide medical treatment or rehabilitation without coordination with educational services. Schools likewise offer educational programs without adequate attention to social or medical needs. Separate delivery systems operate under separate administrative structures in education, health, and social welfare; thus, it is difficult to establish an integrated approach.

In 1997, a new special education law (Department of Education of the Republic of China, 1997) stipulated that all relevant departments of government develop regulations for active implementation of special services for preschool children. The purpose of this law was to ensure that by 2003 all young children with disabilities attend school starting at the age of 3.

Currently, most children who receive early childhood special education are 3-- 6 years of age. Medical care, rather than educational or therapeutic consultation, may be the only service families receive from professionals during the child's first 3 years (Wang, 1993). These medical or rehabilitation services to young children with more severe disabilities, are provided only on request of the parents. Most intervention programs are provided by private interest groups; only a few of them are government supported (Wang, 1993). …