Technology and Early Childhood Education in Taiwan

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					Peer-reviewed paper


Technology and Early Childhood Education in Taiwan

      Yu-Yuan Lee
      University of Memphis

      Satomi Izumi-Taylor
      University of Memphis


      People in Taiwan are fascinated by technology and its part in
      the success of Taiwan becoming a leading country in the
      technology industries. This is accredited to the efforts of the
      government and of all citizens. This is also seen as reflecting
      Chinese values of academic excellence, and the effect these
      values have had in Taiwan’s success as a nation. Parents
      believe that success in life is rooted in a good education,
      especially in the early years. This paper provides an overview
      of early childhood education in Taiwan and how children learn
      through the use of technology. Key implications for early
      childhood teachers are highlighted.


Introduction
Since 1999, the government of Taiwan has invested heavily in high-tech
production and has become a global centre for the electronics industry
(Babb, 1999; Taiwan Review, 2004). Taiwan’s output of computer products,
such as personal computers, monitors, and scanners, has given the nation
prominence in the global industry (Babb, 1999). Taiwan has been ranked as
the world’s fifth most competitive economic country and is considered to be
a leader in the widespread use of information and communications
technologies (Dahl & Lopez-Claros, 2005). People in Taiwan are strong
supporters of education in computer literacy and information technology.
Technology education has flourished in Taiwan. In part this is due to the new
curricula emphasising technological literacy and foreign language proficiency
that has been in place since 2000. Computer literacy is now considered a
core curriculum subject area at all levels (Ministry of Education [MOE],
2005a). The government has even promoted media as a second curriculum
subject area (MOE, 2006) to reinforce students’ education in information and
internet technology.




                                   - 23 -
Parents’ expectations have also contributed to the success of technology
education. Having long been influenced by Confucianism, most parents
highly value children’s academic achievement (Hsieh, 2004; Lin & Tsai,
1996; Zhang & Carrasquillo, 1995). Children in their early ages are taught to
read, write and do simple arithmetic before they start school (Schneider &
Lee, 1990; Zhang & Carrasquillo, 1995). Also, children attend skill
developing classes after school to meet their parents’ expectations in
dancing, drawing, mental arithmetic, piano, English, or even computer
classes. Not only has English been requested as a common course in
kindergartens but also computer classes have been included to recruit new
students in many private kindergartens. Many young children also have
ample opportunities to access computers at home (Fang, 2003). Young
children already have background knowledge related to multi-media and
computer technologies before they attend preschools or kindergartens.

Playing computer software/video games is a very popular leisure activity for
children and young adolescent in Taiwan (Tseng & Liang, 2002). Computers
have been considered as multifunctional learning tools and toys to help
children’s cognitive development in many studies. Yang (1998) accredits the
educative function of computer software, noting that computers are versatile
tools that can assist children’s growth at home. Children demonstrate their
love and active involvement in learning through the implementation of
information technology in kindergarten (Fang, 2004). Lü, Zhang, Lin, and Xu
(2007) promote children’s literacy abilities through the use of international
pen pal e-mail and blogs.

This paper illustrates how computer technologies have been used to
promote Taiwanese children’s learning by focusing on three aspects related
to current technology education. The first section describes current
preschool education in Taiwan, including the cultural value of education and
government support of technology education. The second part explains
computer technology as a tool for children’s cognitive development. The last
part presents the implications for early childhood education.

Current preschool education in Taiwan
Children at age six have been required to attend schools since the
inauguration of the nine-year compulsory education program introduced in
1968 by the MOE (2005b). Although preschool education has not been
made mandatory in Taiwan, the importance of preschool education has
become the main focus of educational innovation in the past decade. The
policy of ten-year compulsory education, which includes one year of
preschool education, has now become the focus of the government
education reforms (Fang, 2004).

The curriculum standards for preschool education issued in 1987 include six
core areas: health education, play, music, work, language arts, and general
knowledge of science and mathematics (Hsieh, 2004). Thematic teaching or
unit teaching is also recommended to integrate the six core areas into
curriculum activities (Zheng, 2004).

Early childhood education in Taiwan includes kindergartens, educational
organizations, supervised by the Ministry of Education (MOE, 2005), and
childcare centres, that are regarded as social welfare organisations,
supervised by the social departments. Kindergartens are managed privately
or publicly and teachers who work for kindergartens are known as
kindergarten teachers, while teachers in childcare centres are called
caregivers (Hsieh, 2004). Privately owned kindergartens dominate the


                                   - 24 -
majority of preschool education organisations, and childcare centres are all
run by private organisations. Public kindergartens are either affiliated with
elementary schools or are run by the local government. Preschoolers (ages
three to six) are expected to attend at least one year of kindergarten or
preschool before they attend elementary schools, however, many young
children attend preschools at the age of three.

Because there are no standard textbooks for preschool education, schools
have their own choice of contents and instructions (Hsieh, 2004). This
makes early childhood curricula rich and more flexible. Most preschool
curricula are designed to meet the needs of parents and the society (Fang,
2004; Hsieh, 2004; Lin & Tsai, 1996). In order to distinguish their programs
and to recruit more students, many privately-run kindergartens adapt
preschool education programs from other countries. These programs include
Montessori, Waldorf, the Reggio Emilia approach, and High/Scope (Hsieh,
2004; Zheng, 2004).

Although the MOE has issued preschool education standards, many
kindergartens develop their own curricula heavily focused on the needs of
parents (Hsieh, 2004). To meet their needs, handwriting, art, mental
arithmetic, mathematics, English, and computer activities are implemented in
the kindergarten classroom (Hsieh, 2004; Lin & Tsai, 1996). Computer skills
related courses have become honor programs in many private preschools to
recruit more students (Lai & Chiu, 2006). Bilingual kindergartens or even
kindergartens where only English is spoken are also very prevalent and
popular in Taiwan (Zheng, 2004).

The cultural value of education
The cultural values and beliefs of parents reflect the way they rear their
children. Traditional Chinese culture which emphasises the importance of
family and education sets the stage for early childhood education. Based on
Confucianism, becoming a well-educated person has the most prestigious
social status in Chinese culture. The majority of parents believe that to have
a brighter and successful future is to achieve academic success, and they
take education of their children seriously. They believe that early learning is
related to academic success hence most parents start to plan a child’s
education at a very young age. There is a strong belief in Taiwanese society
that you must “not let your child lose at the starting point” (Lin & Tsai, 1996,
p.162). Helping children to excel academically is the predominant
expectation for most parents.

To help young children achieve such success, there are many cram schools
(or so-called Buxiban) in Taiwan. Parents and other family members
consider computer technology literacy and the ability to speak English as
essential skills for children to connect with the international community.
Hung’s (2004) study gives a vivid picture of how learning English has
become a national movement:

        With the rapid advance of technology, the development of
        international economy and business … Not only has English
        been taught for the fifth grade of elementary schools, but
        also students and adults hurry to a short-term language
        institutes to learn English after school or work (p. 1).

Providing both English and computer programs has become a selling point
to recruit more children for preschools and kindergartens in Taiwan.
Because of the declining rate in birth in Taiwan, parents tend to have one or


                                     - 25 -
two children, and they are desperate to educate their children to become the
outstanding students. In this sense, allowing young children to have access
to computer technology has become prevalent among Taiwanese families
(Yang, 1998). In Lai and Chiu’s (2006) study, more than 60 percent of
parents agreed to have computer programs in kindergarten settings. To
meet their needs, kindergartens offered such programs (Lai & Chiu, 2006).
In Fang’s (2004) study, most teachers and administrators agreed with the
integration of information technology into early childhood curriculum. They
believed that integrating information technology into the curriculum to be far
more important than discussing the appropriateness of introducing computer
programs into schools since young children already have access to
computers outside school settings (Fang, 2004).

Government’s support on technology literacy
There are two key points that the government has made about the success
of a high-tech centre today in Taiwan. These include various educational
reforms, policies, and the government’s support of the establishment of high-
tech parks, such as Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park, to attract
talented electronic engineers to work in Taiwan (Babb, 1999).

Increasing the competitiveness of e-generations is one of the leading goals
among the Taiwanese government’s policies. The new curriculum standard
of Grade 1-9 Curriculum highlights the importance of technology education
in the following seven major learning areas: Language Arts, Health and
Physical Education, Social Studies, Arts and Humanities, Mathematics,
Science and Technology, and Integrative Activities (MOE, 2003). To
promote students’ abilities for lifelong learning the ministry suggests that
students “Acquire the ability to utilize technology and information” so that
they can access, analyse, and evaluate information for lifelong learning
through technology. To develop this ability, science and technology are
subsumed as one of major learning area in the Grades 1-9 Curriculum for
Elementary and Junior High School Education.

In order to meet the needs of a rapidly changing society and the
advancement of technology, the government has promoted media as a
second curriculum subject (MOE, 2006). The administrative plan: Policy
White Paper on Media Literacy Education outlines the role of media
education:

      As the hours children and youth are exposed to the media
      (including the Internet and computer games) already exceeds
      the time they spend in the classrooms of elementary and high
      schools, it could be claimed that the media is the first
      education curriculum rather than the second (MOE, 2006).

For their efforts to increase students’ competitiveness, educational
authorities are urged to “pay special attention to education through the
media,” and are encouraged to create a digital learning environment (MOE,
2006).

Computer technology as a tool for children’s cognitive
development
As noted above, computers play an important role in family activities, and
playing computer/video games is very popular among teens and children
(Tseng & Liang, 2002). There are almost 60 million online video game



                                    - 26 -
players in Taiwan, and 43 percent of the players are under age 19 (Tseng &
Liang, 2002). Playing video games has become one of their daily activities,
and much game software has been found to be helpful to students in
developing mathematical and scientific concepts, as well as problem-solving
and languages skills (Rosas et al., 2003; Dylak & Kaczmarska, 2001).
Students in Taiwan are motivated to learn if they are playing video games in
their leisure time. One study found that students who have played video
games since they were in elementary school perceive video games to be
helpful for learning a second/foreign language (Lee, Cheon, & Key, 2008).
Through video games students in Taiwan use different language learning
strategies to solve language barriers (Lee & Key, in press). This implies that
video games can be used for learning outside the classroom. Although video
games still have negative influences on players such as aggression and
addiction (Ballard & West, 1996; Hauge & Gentile, 2003), playing such
games has become a common activity among teens.

A computer is also an important tool for children’s cognitive development
and the development of family literacy (Nelson, Duvergé, Gary, & Price,
2003; Yang, 1998). Nelson and others (2003) believe computers can be
used as a multifunctional learning tool. Yang (1998) accredits the educative
value of computers in family activities by asserting that computers are
helpful for children’s cognitive development, and that they can promote
children’s development at home because computers can be used as story
books (digital books), tape recorders, TVs, or even toys. Computers can
engage children in learning through visual (pictures and animations) and
auditory (sound and music) interactions. They can provide different stimuli to
children of different ages at different times to promote cognitive development
(Yang, 1998).

In addition to the educational value of computer technology in the family,
many studies in Taiwan have demonstrated how kindergarten teachers
apply computer technologies to help children’s cognitive development (Fang,
2004; Liang, Wang, & Cui, 2005; Lü, Zhang, Lin, & Xu, 2007). Most children
increase their interaction with peers and adults (teachers) and learn how to
negotiate with peers to take turns when they play with computers (Fang,
2004; Lü, Zhang, Lin, & Xu, 2007). To take advantage of the positive use of
computers, teachers have introduced them into kindergartens in the
following two ways: learned as a skill in a computer classroom, and
integrated into teaching (Lai & Chiu, 2006). Seventy percent of kindergartens
in central Taiwan teach children computer skills in computer classrooms.
Children learn basic computer skills using computer software, and most
instructors are computer teachers rather than kindergarten teachers (as
cited in Chiu & Chuang, 2004). Such teachers integrate computers into
thematic teaching, and students not only learn the basics of computer
hardware but also learn how to use a computer to draw pictures, to print
their works, and to watch movies (Fang, 2004).

Through the implementation of information and computer technology,
children develop their abilities to negotiate with others. They learn to be
patient with each other while waiting for their turns to play with the
computers, and computers also help them to develop the concept of shapes,
symbols, and the sequence of numbers. Computers are used as toys to
motivate students to learn, and to develop children’s social and cognitive
skills (Fang, 2004).

Likewise, a study conducted by Lü et al. (2007) has found that computers
promote children’s cognitive development and social skills. They have
implemented the ‘International Netpal Project’ into their thematic teaching.


                                    - 27 -
Children in Southern Taiwan have been netpals with a kindergarten class at
a Montessori school in the United States and with a picture book writer in
Japan through email. The email contexts include pure texts, pictures, and
pictures with texts. The results have indicated that children understand that
computers can be used to find information through the Internet, to write
(type), to draw pictures, to see pictures on others’ websites, and to send
emails. They also learn that computers can be used for video conferencing.
This study has revealed that children enjoy using computers and have rich
peer interactions with others. Children have helped each other in solving
problems while using computers and have shared their own experiences.
Children have also increased their interests in printed words and have
improved their reading and comprehension skills. They have increased their
writing skills and sometimes have created their own symbols to express their
ideas in writing (Lü et al., 2007).

In sum, kindergarten teachers in Taiwan have been introducing computer
and information technology to their classrooms. The results have revealed a
positive improvement in children’s cognitive and social development. The
results of these studies imply that computer and information technology can
be implemented in kindergarten curricula to support children’s learning and
development. However, to achieve higher success in implementation,
kindergarten teachers’ competence in integrating such technology also
needs to be improved (Fang, 2004; Lai & Chiu, 2006).

Conclusion
Technology literacy is a part of everyday activity for young children in
Taiwan. Kajder (2004) claims that teachers need not be tech savvy, but
knowing the “right tool, right task, and right student” is very important (p. 7).
To use technology effectively, educators need to know how to support their
students’ learning styles and how to implement appropriate software in the
classroom.

As argued in Chiu’s (2006) study, the majority of educational software is not
appropriate for children because of age inappropriateness. To help teachers
seek the appropriate software to foster children’s cognitive and social
development, they need to know how to select appropriate technology. By
adopting an appropriate technology-based curriculum, teachers can become
strong proponents and advocates for children. As shown in early childhood
classrooms in Taiwan, young children learn to work on technology at an
early age, and parents, educators, and others involved in children’s
education are committed to their education through the use of technology-
related activities. The more they understand the appropriate use of such
activities, the more they can assist their children’s cognitive and social
development. When competent teachers understand the use of technology
and how it can best be used to enhance learning, they can strategically
support children’s learning and development. In doing so, students can also
become technologically competent, which will likely make them more
competitive in future job markets.

Early childhood teachers’ practices are based on their cultural belief that
children should have the opportunity to access technology at an early age
and to experience different kinds of skill-oriented activities. Understanding
their way of implementing technology has universal implications for
educations as all educators and parents strive to promote their children’s
development and learning. The following suggestions can be used in a
classroom of young children:



                                     - 28 -
      Provide ample opportunities for children to play with technology-
      related activities and encourage their interactions with each other.
      Introduce children to different technology-related activities such as
      netpals through the use of emails in order to interact with children from
      different countries.
      Increase children’s interests in the printed word, and allow their
      creative symbols to express their ideas.
      Inform parents and family members about children’s technology-
      related activities at school in order for them to reinforce such activities
      at home.
      Educate teachers about the effective use of technology because when
      they have knowledge about this, teachers can support children’s
      learning and development.


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