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Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, is an island country in the Far East region of Asia, with a total geographic area of just under 14,000 square miles. While the Republic of China was originally based in mainland China, it now governs the island of Taiwan (formerly known as Formosa), which comprises over 99 percent of the Republic’s territory. Other smaller islands, which make up the remaining 1 percent of the Taiwanese region, include Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, among others. Taiwan’s neighboring countries include the People’s Republic of China to the west, Japan to the east and northeast and the Philippines to the south. Taipei is the capital city of Taiwan and serves as its hub both culturally and economically, while New Taipei is the country’s largest city by population.
According to a 2012 estimate, Taiwan has a permanent population of approximately 23.2 million and a high population density of 1,662 inhabitants per square mile. Approximately 98 percent of the Taiwanese people are of the Han Chinese ethnicity. Of these, 86 percent are descendants of early Hans Chinese immigrants known as the “Benshengren,” which translates to “home-province person.” The Benshengren ethnic group contains two subgroups, the Hoklo, who account for 70 percent of the total population, and the Hakka, comprising roughly 15 percent of the overall total. The other Han Chinese group prevalent in the country is the “Waishengren,” or people who emigrated from mainland China following the Chinese Civil War. The remainder of the population (2%), or the non-Han Chinese, is made up of Taiwanese aborigines derived from one of 14 major indigenous groups on the island.
Like in China, Mandarin is the official language of Taiwan and is used in government administration, schools, commerce and media (print and broadcast). It is also the mother tongue for the vast majority of the population. Languages that are recognized regionally in Taiwan include Taiwanese, Hakka and various Formosan languages spoken by the indigenous people. There is no state or official religion in the country, as the Constitution protects people’s freedom of religion, although 26 religions are recognized by the Taiwanese government. Over 81 percent of the population practices one of the recognized religions, while 14-18 percent of the population self-identifies as being non-religious. The five largest religions in Taiwan according to membership are Buddhism (35%), Taoism (33%), I-Kuan Tao (3.5%), Protestantism (2.6%) and Roman Catholicism (1.4%).
Education in Taiwan
Education in Taiwan is overseen and regulated by the national government and is free and compulsory through secondary school. Prior to 1945, when Taiwan was controlled by Japan, education in the region was not a primary focus, but since that time it has become a major priority of the Taiwanese government. The system itself is based after that of mainland China, with mixed elements of both the Chinese and American educational systems. The education system is divided into four stages: elementary school, middle school, high school and higher or university education.
Elementary education in Taiwan spans six years (grades 1-6) and serves children between the ages of 6 and 12. The curriculum at this level, much like all the levels in the Taiwanese system, is very broad and includes subjects such as mathematics, natural sciences, history, geography, language and literature, social and cultural studies, practical arts, technology and physical education. Of these courses, mathematics, science and technology are typically the major focus for instructors, particularly in the later grades. As a result, Taiwanese students regularly score exceptionally well in these areas as compared to other countries.
Secondary education in Taiwan is divided between middle school and high school, each spanning three years. At both of these levels, many of the same subjects listed above are taught, albeit at a much more advanced well, with added coursework in subjects such as foreign language, physics, chemistry and advanced mathematics and technology systems.
Higher education in Taiwan is provided by colleges and universities, where students can earn undergraduate (Bachelor), graduate (master’s) and post-graduate (PhD) degrees in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.
Although Taiwanese students boast some of the highest test scores in the world at every level, the system of education has been criticized for placing excessive pressure on students and for promoting rote memorization over creativity.
The adult literacy rate in Taiwan is approximately 96 percent overall and about 99 percent for younger adults between the ages of 15-24.