Taiwan sees proliferation of small schools as birth rate falls

The lower birth rate in Taiwan has led to enrollment shortfalls at elementary schools and an increase in the number of small-sized schools over the past 15 years, according to a report released by the Ministry of Education on Sunday.

Taiwan's birth rate has fallen since 2001, when the crude birth rate was 11.65 per 1,000 people, to 9.1 in 2015, the statistics revealed.

Elementary and junior high school enrollment was 1,925,491 and 747,720, respectively, in 2015, a fall in student numbers of 36.9 percent and 20.1 percent from 2001, the data showed.

Fewer students have also led to an increase in the number of small schools. For example, 1,407 elementary schools had 12 classes or less in 2015, accounting for more than 50 percent of the total, while those with six classes or fewer made up 37 percent.

Meanwhile, 374 elementary schools had 50 students or fewer, 14 percent of the total in 2015, nearly three times more than the 134 recorded in 2001, according to the statistics.

The number of junior high schools with six or fewer classes accounted for 10 percent of the total in 2015, while the number of schools with 300 students or less made up nearly 30 percent of the total. In 2015, there were 64 schools with 100 students or fewer, accounting for 8.7 percent of the total, nearly double the 33 (4.7 percent) recorded in 2001, according to the data.

In 2001, 51 schools had three first-graders or fewer, increasing to 130 by 2015. Chiayi County registered the most small schools with 20, followed by Nantou with 17 and Hualien 15.

In addition, 50 schools had 30 or fewer seventh-graders in 2001, a figure that had increased to 69 by 2015, accounting for 9.4 percent of the total. The offshore island county of Penghu and Tainan City reported the most such schools, with nine each, while Kaohsiung City had eight.

Despite the falling class sizes, some pundits believe the nation's shrinking schools represent an opportunity to rethink traditional teaching paradigms.

Chang Hsu-cheng (???), president of the National Federation of Teachers' Unions (NFTU), said that schools with 50 students or less could be forced to merge and layoff teachers, a measure he indicated should be combated by organizing multi-age classes.

Using a multi-age class approach -- combining grade levels and thereby reducing manpower needs -- also allows more classrooms for specific purposes making it possible to create a better teaching and learning environment, while also enabling teachers to provide enhanced instruction.

Echoing Chang's view, National Cheng-chi University professor Cheng Tung-liao (???), said that introducing multi-age teaching would not only reduce personnel costs for rural schools, but also allow local governments to avoid school closures, a looming problem given that there are currently more than 1,000 schools with fewer than 100 students across Taiwan.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel