2011 / 5月
Chang Chiung-fang /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Geoff Hegarty and Sophia Chen
The 12-year compulsory education policy will most likely be implemented in full by 2014, by which time only a small number of "superior" senior high schools will remain. The rest will have moved towards providing a mainstream education for regional students.
While Lishan High School (LHS) is not on the list of superior schools, it does have a number of significant specialist features. When the new policy comes into force, 70% of junior high graduates will no longer need to take entrance exams for senior high school. So how will LHS, which specializes in fostering young science talent, be able to maintain this highly desirable character?
At the end of March, the first High Scope Program Conference on Asia-Pacific Science Education was staged by LHS at Liberty Square Convention Center in -Neihu District, Tai-pei City. Following the conference, 22 teachers from other nations including Japan, Korea, Australia and Singapore were invited to visit LHS.
Xinglan Ambassadors, a group of students who take on the role of representing their school, were responsible for receiving the guests and interpreting. Politely and in excellent English, members of the group introduced their school, its environment and characteristics, Taiwan's unique culture, attractions in and around Taipei, and delicious Taiwanese-style snack foods to the guests, winning a warm round of appreciative applause.
Lishan High School, established in 2000, is sited within a beautiful environment, as its name suggests (Lishan means literally "beautiful mountain"). The school's initial role was to become a center for the recruitment of elite math and science students from across the country. The original ideal has undergone various reinterpretations, but the school hasn't changed its basic raison d'etre. LHS became the first senior high school in Taiwan to focus on teaching science.
What is the most notable characteristic of the school? A random survey of LHS students on this question will elicit only one answer: the university-style thematic study.
LHS has implemented teaching methods that are similar to those found in many universities. In semester one in their first year, students study research methods. In the second semester, they are required to choose their own areas of research according to their own interests.
Second-year student Yang Hanyu, for example, is focusing on chemistry, and has developed an interest in energy issues. In the second semester of her first year, she researched "Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells" (for solar energy generation), and in the first semester of her current year, "The Nature of Nitrogen Dioxide from Different Nitrogen Sources." Her first-year research was awarded NT$20,000 from a National Taiwan Science Education Center (NTSEC) program designed to foster research from young scientists.
Zou Wenxiang, also in the second year at LHS and head of Xinglan Ambassadors, is one of a small number of students at the school who are primarily interested in the social studies stream.
"Although I'm not a mainstream student, the school provides a lot of resources and opportunities for us," says Zou. Because of the small number of students, we in fact have greater opportunity for individual expression. His research topics in civics included "Introduction and the Influence of the Tea Party Movement in the USA," "Introduction and Discussion on the Ma Government's Flexible Diplomacy," "Wikileaks" and "Placement Marketing."
As well as emulating university-style teaching methods, there are also similarities between the LSH class system and that of most universities.
Unlike classes in most high schools, which remain in one classroom and wait for teachers of the various subjects to come to them, students at LHS move between classrooms depending on the subject. For example, they might have math in the Da Vinci classroom and chemistry in the Dalton classroom in the morning, and then life and technology in the Edison classroom and civics in the Sun Yat-sen classroom in the afternoon. The function of each room is fixed, so students move between the different classrooms according to the subject. In fact, students at LHS have lockers at strategic locations on campus-quite an exotic feature for a Taiwanese school.
Beginning in 2006, the school launched an online distance education program with the cooperation of NASA scientists in the US. Whether studying comets, asteroids and meteoroids or chatting with the astronauts at NASA, it's a really memorable experience.
In this dynamic, free and exploratory environment, students have achieved outstanding results. LHS graduates have gained fantastic results in the university entrance exam. The percentage of LHS students gaining entry to public universities has risen steadily from 55% in 2006 to 72% in 2009 (with a slight fall to 68% in 2010). Because of its outstanding academic record, and despite its very brief 10-year history, LHS has been ranked among the highest-quality senior high schools in the country.
LHS's distinct character as a science high school naturally attracts many students for whom science is their life. LHS students win prizes every year in the Taiwan International Science Fair organized by NTSEC. LHS also frequently represents Taiwan in international science fairs in countries such as the US, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, and often brings home prizes.
Chin Chia-lung, an LHS physics teacher who led the students attending a science and technology exposition in New Zealand in 2007, points out that one of their exhibits, a flute made from a drinking straw, was awarded first prize in physics. Their research was based on investigating the harmonic vibrations generated at various sound frequencies under different conditions of air speed. The theme was suggested by a music student from their experience of flute playing. The research was praised for being very novel and highly creative.
There's nothing unusual about a group of people with similar interests wanting to get together. The majority of students at LHS want to specialize in science and engineering, with 10 classes per grade, and only two classes majoring in the social studies stream. However, changes may be on the way. With the number of students no longer having to take the high-school entrance examination (HSEE) expanding dramatically, and after the full implementation of 12-year compulsory education in 2014, will LHS and other institutions with such distinct characters be forced to change?
"We will have six new student intakes this year," says Ke Mingshu, academic director at LHS. Because of the growing numbers of students under the open admission and multi-phasehigh-school entrance programs, the intake dates are varied to cater for enrolments for a range of groups: disabled students exempt from the HSEE, Tai-pei City students under the North Star Program, students from Kee-lung and Tai-pei who no longer have to do the HSEE, application-entrant students from Kee-lung, Tai-pei and New Tai-pei, register-and-distribution students from Kee-lung, Tai-pei and New Tai-pei, and register-and-distribution students who have taken the national Basic Competence Test. Although enrolments from students who do not have to do the HSEE have increased, this hasn't impacted greatly on the attraction of LHS for top-level students. "The majority of students who come to LHS are interested in science and engineering, so in general they are highly competent-well above average-and really want to get in."
However, with the growth of community senior high schools, and with 70% of junior high school graduates no longer needing to take the HSEE, LHS principal Chen Weihong cannot help but express his concerns.
Chen, who is soon to become principal of Jian-guo High School, points out that the issues for students in senior high school are more complex than those in junior high. Also, in senior high schools, students are divided into different streams: they need to choose the stream best suited to their interests and competence. How can one senior high school satisfactorily meet the requirements of all different types of students? Facing the varied levels of the students, a crucial challenge for teachers is how to ensure the quality of teaching. "Will our teachers be able to cope?"
"The government needs to adopt a broader perspective." Chen notes that senior-high-school education is becoming more universal-less specialized. So fostering the talents of specialized students has in fact become more important. LHS has been very successful in focusing on nurturing scientific talent, and whatever happens, this characteristic must be maintained.
Chen points out that in Korea's Seoul Science High School, for example, the aim is to educate students to a standard equivalent to that of Nobel-Prize-winning scientists. Each grade has only 140 students, yet funding is 20 to 30 times that of most senior high schools in Taiwan. The school not only has advanced labs and equipment, but 40% of their teachers have doctorates. All classes are taught in English.
Compared with teachers in other senior high schools in Taiwan, the qualifications of LHS teachers are outstanding: among the 79 teachers, 66 have either master or doctorate degrees. The physics teaching team, in particular, was awarded a Gold Medal for Teaching Excellence by the Ministry of Education in 2007.
"LHS is well positioned to maintain its reputation as a specialized senior high school nurturing young science talent," says Chen. Full of confidence, he pleads: "Please let schools take their own decisions!"