In response to parents' demands and with schools' efforts, Taiwan has been making gradual progress in its special education. Key measures for special education are outlined below.
I. The Special Education Act
Since the Special Education Act was announced, the government has been actively promoting education designed specifically for the disabled and the gifted, with regulations introduced to: identify those that are disabled and gifted, set up agencies in charge of special education, safeguard funding for special education, improve special educators' skills, ensure parental participation, implement individualized educational programs, provide professional teams and relevant support, and extend preschool special education to children three years and older. The Act aims to safeguard special education students' rights and interests in an effort to lay the foundations for the development of special education.
To improve Taiwan's special education, the Ministry in 2008 published a report on special education and a whitepaper on the education of the gifted, as a blueprint for the development of special education. The report and whitepaper are used to plan and implement various strategies and short-, mid- and long-term programs to facilitate learning and development of special education students.
II. The Preschool Stage
The Special Education Act covers young physically and mentally challenged children and children with developmental disabilities, with preschool special education extended downwards to children as young as 3 years of age. By pooling educational, medical and social welfare resources, children with disabilities can receive early treatment and education. In terms of subsidies, priority is given to young children with disabilities enrolling in private kindergartens, daycare centers and social welfare institutions. They are helped to enroll in a school near them and given a variety of placement options. In addition, the Ministry helps city and county governments implement preschool special educational programs, and encourages them to hire qualified teachers and provide teachers with on-the-job training.
In 2003, a preschool special education taskforce was formed to advance the "Plan to Implement Preschool Special Education of Children with Disabilities" aimed at increasing the number of children receiving special education, venues available for this purpose and qualified teachers, creating barrier-free educational environments, and providing individualized guidance and professional services, in an effort to meet the educational needs of children with disabilities aged between 3 and 6.
III. Barrier-free Educational Environments
A system has been established to monitor safety of campuses, check schools' barrier-free facilities and help them improve their facilities in order to create educational environments that meet the needs of individual students and communities, and which are modern and barrier-free.
Efforts are being made to raise awareness of special education in communities and on campuses, and to boost support for a barrier-free educational environment by encouraging school teachers and employees to accept and help students with disabilities. Taking into account parental rights, parents are given the opportunity to take part in meetings on the assessment, placement and individualized education of their children, with at least one of these parents on the parent-teacher association. In addition, schools voluntarily provide students with home support services in an attempt to create a barrier-free campus environment.
IV. Professional Services
To aid schools in the assessment and teaching of students with disabilities, the Ministry subsidizes city/county special education resource centers and those in colleges and universities. In addition, libraries for the visually impaired are also subsidized to help students study, adapt to society, receive therapy, gain family support, and to provide parents with the information they require.
Resource centers equipped with learning aids for the visually and hearing impaired and physically disabled are established to provide learning aids meeting individual needs. In addition, need assessment is carried out and learning aids are lent and repaired and maintained to meet the needs of students with different disabilities.
V. Rewards and Financial Assistance
To motivate and help children with disabilities to be educated, scholarships and grants are provided. Rewards are also given to disabled and gifted students who do well in school. Moreover, tuition and fees of disabled students of families with low incomes are either reduced or waived. They are given certain textbooks and learning aids free of charge. City/county governments are helped to provide disabled students with after-school care to ease parents' burden.
Free bus services or transportation subsidies are provided to students unable to travel between home and school by themselves.
VI. 12-year National Education
Disabled students have special educational needs because of their disabilities. The "12-Year Educational Placement Plan for Disabled Students" was launched in 2001 to place disabled students in a senior/vocational high school near and suitable for them, with tuition and fees waived. The purpose is to extend the length of national education of disabled students.
To facilitate senior/vocational high school education of disabled students so that they eventually enjoy a 12-year national education, just as students with no disabilities do, a plan has been drawn up to provide them with diversified educational opportunities, place them in a school near them, improve their educational environment, individualize their education, offer parents the required support and make better use of the internet.
VII. Multiple Admission Options
Disabled students are provided with multiple options to be admitted to schools of higher education. A plan to admit disabled students to colleges and universities through multiple channels is being implemented. In addition, disabled students may choose to go through a testing and selection procedure rather than take an entrance exam. Colleges and universities are also permitted to hold their own entrance exams, instead of taking part in a joint entrance exam, for disabled students. College and university resource centers aimed at providing disabled students with guidance and learning aids are subsidized to assist them in pursuing higher education.
Admission testing, selection and exam committees should hire special education-related personnel and ensure that the tests and exams they administer are appropriate to the students for whom they are intended. Government scholarships are available for disabled students to encourage them to study abroad.
VIII. Educational Program for the Gifted
An educational program for the gifted is implemented to encourage a variety of plans that nurture students' different abilities and skills based on their intellect and aptitude, artistic and creative qualities, leadership and other special attributes. By combining resources inside and outside of schools, we hope to admit gifted students to schools early and shorten their length of study.
Criteria and procedure used to determine whether a student is gifted and how he/she is placed are clearly defined to ensure a uniform method of assessing and placing gifted students by city/county governments. Additional effort is made to identify and guide gifted students with disabilities, or those who are socially, economically or culturally disadvantaged, to realize their potential.
IX. Curricula and Teachers for Disabled Students
Guidelines on the curricula for disabled primary and secondary school students are periodically reviewed and revised, and those for preschoolers are developed to individualize curricula, implement tailored teaching, and help teachers design remedial or functional curricula that meet the requirements of disabled students.Contests on the design of teaching materials, tools, aids and computer-aided instruction software for disabled students are held to encourage teachers to develop materials and tools that meet students'needs.
In response to growing calls for inclusive education, the Ministry is urging normal universities to offer non-degree courses on the teaching of the moderately and seriously disabled, those with communicative disabilities and the hearing impaired. A database of special education teachers has been established with training provided in association with various professional associations. Meanwhile, workshops offered by city/county government and college special education centers are subsidized. Private special education schools receive subsidies to hire more teachers, and special education teachers, regular teachers, administrative personnel and professional teams receive training in special education in an effort to improve their professional knowledge and skills.
X. Social Resources
Subsidies to private organizations providing special education are increasing each year. Resources from institutions, parental groups and associations are pooled to jointly promote special education. Firms providing disabled students with practical training and employment opportunities are commended to encourage more firms to do the same and create a barrier-free employment environment for disabled students. Parental groups and private organizations are encouraged to take part in the planning of special education together with the educational authorities. Schools and communities cooperate fully to pool their resources and assist in the holding of special education activities in an effort to promote development of school education.
Community resources are utilized to hire persons with special skills to assist in the teaching of gifted students. Support is provided for experimentation in and research on the education of gifted students to facilitate their development.
XI. E-administration of Special Education
A Special Education Transit (SET) database has been established for notification purposes, with the notification feature gradually expanded to include the current referral service notification system, system to inspect education of disabled students of senior high schools and under, system to check barrier-free environments, system to replace vehicles with subsidies provided by city/county governments, special education subsidy system, assessment and placement system, aids management system, professional services application system and individualized guidance services system in order to simply processes and maximize utilization of resources. In addition, a special education workshop registration system and an online inquiry system, as well as a special education publications website and a digital learning and virtual learning website are created to provide teachers and parents with a variety of services and support.
To meet the needs of visually impaired students, a barrier-free website and a Chinese-language e-library for the visually impaired have been created. In addition, a vocational education resources website for disabled students and a website containing information for gifted senior high school students are available for teachers and relevant personnel to obtain special education-related information, teaching materials and resources.
XII. Visitation and Evaluation
The Ministry periodically visits and evaluates city/county and college resource classrooms, special education schools and special education classes of senior/vocation high schools. City/county governments also evaluate their special education schools. Experts, parental groups and administrative personnel work together to find out the problems and performance of our special educational system. Evaluation results are reviewed with those who do well being rewarded and performance of those who don't being followed up in order to effectively monitor and raise the service quality of special education. In addition, a ceremony is held yearly to commend outstanding performers in order to boost morale and encourage emulation.
Various databases are utilized to analyze and plan special education and monitor the status of utilization of funding provided to various cities and counties. Self-inspection of implementation of special education tasks and of improvements to be made to create a barrier-free environment by various schools is monitored. Schools fill out online forms regarding implementation of education of disabled students for use by the Ministry to stay aware of the current status and to formulate policies.
With the government's attention and support, and the collaboration between educational authorities, experts, social welfare institutions, private organizations, parental groups and educators, Taiwan's special education is making steady progress. Key measures on special education being implemented are: The Special Education Act The preschool stage Barrier-free educational environments Professional services Rewards and financial assistance 12-year national education Multiple admission options Educational program for the gifted Curricula and teachers for disabled students Social resources E-administration of special education Visitations and evaluations are carried out to highlight the importance of performance and responsibility.
Special education will continue to safeguard students' rights, interests and welfare, with satisfaction of their needs being the Ministry's top priority. Objectives of Taiwan's special education are to provide needed support, build a quality educational environment, establish a comprehensive support network, encourage family participation, create a barrier-free campus environment, set up a lifetime learning system, develop multiple admission options, raise students' learning quality and realize the goal of equal education opportunities.