Compared with the 30 high-income countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Taiwan’s education from primary school to university is satisfactory, but when it comes to lifelong learning, this country falls short in many ways.
Data from last year shows that in South Korea, almost 30 percent of adults between 25 and 64 take part in lifelong learning, while more than 40 percent of adults in the EU do so.
While there are no reliable statistics for Taiwan, numbers from evening studies at universities, open universities, community colleges and cram schools suggest that less than 3 percent of adults take part in lifelong education. Since all people have the right to learn, Taiwan should plan a lifelong learning system so that every adult — even if they already have a profession — can continue to enjoy the rewards of learning.
The right to education is said to be the vehicle for the right to political, economic, social, cultural and personal development. In 1972, UNESCO introduced the idea of a “learning society,” proposing that every country make it the guiding principle in education that every person be given the opportunity to continue learning throughout their life.
The organization said the right to receive education, to learn and to continue to learn are fundamental human rights like the right to healthcare, security and other civil rights.
Although the legislature passed the Lifelong Learning Act (終身學習法) in 2002, implementation of lifelong learning has so far been limited to special projects, experiments and annual activities.
Taiwan is not treating lifelong learning as a fundamental national policy and has not built a lifelong learning system for adults from all walks of life, ages and professions. The total budget allocated to education for adults returning to school and lifelong learning by the Ministry of Education this year was about NT$200 million (US$6.5 million), or 1.2 percent of the ministry’s budget, clearly showing that Taiwan doesn’t attach much importance to lifelong learning.
In recent years, with help from civic organizations and subsidized and commissioned by the ministry and city governments, community colleges have gradually been established. They offer lectures on many subjects and lecturers and students form a good environment for lifelong learning
In the past decade, many things have been accomplished, especially toward reviving and celebrating traditional culture. But from a national perspective, these have only affected a small group of people in a few communities.
On the whole, Taiwan is still a lifelong educational desert, even more so among disadvantaged groups like those living in the countryside, poor people and people with low education levels.
A telephone poll conducted last fall by Nantao Community College showed that if financial obstacles were removed and classes were held in convenient locations, 80 percent of adults in Taitung County would want to take some kind of classes. This shows that a lack of interest in learning among adults is not the problem.
Lifelong education isn’t making progress because the government hasn’t made plans or allocated resources for it. The Lifelong Learning Act should therefore be amended, setting a schedule for implementation, making it universal and including lifelong learning for adults in the basic national education — like nine or 12-year compulsory education.