Taiwan’s High School Computer Science Education
I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have researched Taiwan’s approach to high school computer science education. My goal was to understand better how Taiwanese high school CS educators teach using culturally responsive pedagogy and create a culture of belonging and identity through their teaching, curriculum, and professional development. This project helped me view CS education from a more global perspective and profoundly impacted my growth.
1. Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Computer Science Education
A recent report on PreK-12 CS Teachers in the United States powerfully explains, “given technology’s significant role in society, our educational systems must ensure that all students have access to a robust and rigorous computer science education” (Koshy 2022). In addition to increasing access to computer science for Black, Latinx, and Native American students along with girls, CS educators are also thinking beyond broadening participation to ensure that students are engaged in an equitable curriculum. To “close equity gaps in computer science and improve the outcomes of marginalized students in computer science education,” the Kapor Center released The Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Computer Science Education Framework and defined culturally responsive-sustaining computer science pedagogy as ensuring “that students’ interests, identities, and cultures are embraced and validated, students develop knowledge of computing content and its utility in the world, strong CS identities are developed, and students engage in larger socio-political critiques about technology’s purpose, potential and impact” (Kapor 2021). Many studies have shown “the success of engaging underrepresented students in CS with more culturally-relevant material” (Koshy 2022). Along with the definition, the Kapor Center created six core components for the framework.
To research what culturally responsive-sustaining computer science looked like in Taiwan, I observed twelve teachers across seven different high schools and tutoring centers. I also audited a graduate-level Introduction to Computer Science Education class at the National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) Graduate Institute of Information and Computer Education. I interviewed high school teachers and reviewed curriculum and textbooks.
Currently, information technology (computer science) is a required class for Taiwanese high school students, counting for two credits out of the 180 credits required to graduate. The high schools I observed taught it for one semester, two hours a week, or over the entire year but two hours every other week. The new Curriculum Guidelines for 12-Year Basic Education emphasizes using project-based learning and interdisciplinary STEM instruction to guide students’ thinking and problem-solving. Like many countries, Taiwan is working towards gender equity, as teachers described their efforts both in school and through outside organizations to recruit more girls.
Before exploring the framework, I wanted to describe one of the greatest strengths of Taiwan’s high school computer science education system: community. Each time I observed a different class, teacher, or school, I noticed a common theme of the importance of community and collaboration.
4.1 Community of teachers in high school departments
In many high schools I observed, there was a strong interest in computer science, which meant there was a large computer science department. Each high school campus had a central office space for CS teachers to meet and work. Some of the department teaching schedules were arranged so all teachers had the same collaboration time, allowing for weekly meetings. I was lucky to present professional development during one of these blocks, where we had a rich and engaging discussion about Taiwan and US computer science education. Within each high school, teachers were set up for success in creating a computer science teaching community.
4.2 Community of teachers across high schools
Across different high schools, almost all computer science teachers I observed knew each other. Whether it was from reviewing textbooks or collaborating with NTNU on research projects, there is a strong network of high school computer science teachers. Every time I met a new teacher, they almost always asked me to say hello to another teacher I had already met. During my time in Taiwan, I had the honor of presenting at a meeting of The Information Center of the Ministry of Education (教育部資訊學科中心). It’s like a national community of practice for high school computer science teachers. They meet a couple of times a year, and teachers drive, take trains, and ride boats to different campuses to observe each other teach. At this meeting, one teacher presented a new lesson plan and stated her goals and objectives before class started. Every visiting teacher participated in class and gave the host teacher great feedback through a rubric form. In their follow-up session, the host gave everyone some thoughts and advice on what she would do differently while the visiting teachers asked supportive questions. Through this sharing of best practices, I could see how strong Taiwan’s high school computer science network is.
4.3 Community of students in a classroom
The strength of the community within the classroom is also inspiring. The structure of high school classes in Taiwan encourages students to get to know each other. Still a lot of credit goes to the teachers for creating this collaborative environment. In Taiwan high schools, students have the same classmates for almost all of their classes; in the United States, students usually have very different classmates each period of the day. This means that Taiwanese high school students get to know their classmates very well throughout their high school years.
Teachers who encourage collaboration help build strong communities. In one class, I saw a student stand up and ask his classmates who needed help next since he couldn’t keep track of the raised hands. What is even more impressive is the amount of collaboration between students and how they help each other. For example, many students I observed wanted to make sure that their classmates not only wrote code that worked but also understood why it worked. When I asked the teacher how she created this cooperative environment, she was too humble and gave a lot of credit to the students, but I believe she did a lot to build community. She gave the students a lot of autonomy and freedom, trusting that they would use class time wisely and productively. The students appreciated the engaging classroom environment and responded well to her teaching style. In a class led by a woman teacher at an all-girls high school, I observed a conversation that could only happen in a classroom with a strong sense of community. The teacher introduced the concept of loops and asked students for a real-life example of something always true. A student raised her hand and answered; it’s always true that I like you, teacher. Even though this anecdote feels light-hearted, it highlights the strong relationships built in the classroom: only a student that feels like they belong could feel comfortable sharing something like that.
4.4 Community of students in a high school
The structure of the CS pathway at various high schools also helps build and strengthen communities. Frequently, teachers can teach the same students in multiple classes over the years, allowing teachers to build strong relationships with those students. This is especially true for the honors computer science classes. With small class sizes, often only a dozen students, and ample class time, sometimes more than 5 hours a week for the entire year, teachers can get to know students well. I observed teachers spending long periods sitting with students and asking deep questions to understand their interests better. At another high school, a teacher showed me some recruitment videos that current students have made of their Arduino projects to increase interest in computer science. Many teachers have mentioned how teaching honors computer science classes is the most rewarding part of their job. Since they teach the same group of students over all three years of high school, teachers get to help students grow, not just in computer science but in life.
A teacher from an all-girls school mentioned how one of her former students started a program to recruit more students to study CS. The program is taught by college students and allows high schoolers with the same interest to get together and not only learn but also build a community. It was very inspiring to hear stories of students wanting to give back.
4.5 Community of computer science education at the university
At the university level, I also saw a strong sense of community in pre-service computer science teachers. The Graduate Institute of Information & Computer Education is housed on an entire floor of the education building of NTNU. Every pre-service teacher had an office space, so it was easy for me and other students to work with each other. Although physical space alone isn’t sufficient to create a community, it greatly facilitated collaboration in this case. In the graduate-level Introduction to Computer Science Education class I audited, Professor Lin encouraged discussion of ideas. As many students already had previous experience teaching, whether at after-school clubs, camps, or in the classroom, I learned a lot from everyone’s perspectives. Professor Lin made sure that everyone’s voice was heard and cared about each person’s unique experiences.
4.6 Community of researchers and practitioners
One teacher mentioned how she frequently hosts students from NTNU to observe her computer science classes. As an alumna of the university, she mentioned how she hopes future educators can not only learn from observing her classroom but also give her feedback and advice as the new generation of teachers. She also is very open to trying new pedagogical practices, curricula, or tools that researchers are building. This is another example of the strong ties between research and practitioners of computer science education in Taiwan.
5. Observations of Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Computer Science
Collaboration is one of the most important practices for teachers, especially when implementing culturally relevant pedagogy. Every Taiwanese teacher I observed pursued targeted professional development and participated in CS professional learning communities. These two activities fall under “Standard 3. Professional Growth and Identity” in the 2020 CSTA Standards for Computer Science Teachers, which was “designed to provide clear guidance around effective and equitable CS instruction in support of rigorous CS education for all K-12 students” (Computer Science Teachers Association 2020). Through the strong support of teachers in all the different forms of community in Taiwan, teachers could model and collaborate on culturally relevant pedagogy. I was inspired to see so many parts of The Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Computer Science Education Framework in action.
Focusing on a few of the components, Component Two focuses on creating inclusive and equitable classroom cultures. Taiwan has recently implemented new Curriculum Guidelines for 12-Year Basic Education. In “The Domain of Technology”, there is an explicit reference to gender equity in learning performance C-a-V-6: “be able to understand one’s orientation toward computer science, regardless of gender.” In addition, during interviews, many teachers mentioned their efforts to encourage girls to take advanced elective computer science classes or to compete in programming competitions. Through both curriculum and teachers, Taiwan is working to “actively and intentionally confront and dispel stereotypes and biases about the abilities and skills of students from groups marginalized in CS” (Kapor Center, 2021). Many teachers also implemented feedback surveys in class so that student voice is heard. When I asked one teacher what topic she enjoyed teaching the most, she said she likes to teach whatever the students give good feedback on.
Component Three of the framework focuses on pedagogy and curriculum, ensuring that they are rigorous, relevant, and encourage sociopolitical critiques. When looking at textbooks, I found numerous computer science examples that helped students learn about their community and culture. When introducing the concept of graphs, many textbooks showed images of Taiwanese cities to show how different roads connect the country or how the metro system connects different parts of the city. In addition, after learning how to write code, students are asked to write a program to convert between the Republic of China and the Gregorian calendars. In the unit on the internet, one textbook uses the IP address of a local university, National Taiwan University, to explain the format. When students learn about data science, one textbook uses COVID in Taichung while another uses air quality in Taiwan to explain new concepts. As the data is drawn from the Taiwanese government, these projects use important, up-to-date topics relevant to Taiwan. These textbook examples help students engage more with the content and relate computer science to students’ lives.
In addition to textbooks, many educators designed their projects. For example, one teacher designed an important project for students to create a COVID vaccine appointment scheduler as Taiwan and the rest of the world were responding to the pandemic. Another project asked students to recreate Popcat, an internet meme from a few years ago. Students were also assigned a project to simulate an electric scooter battery charging station. As scooters and motorcycles are one of the most common forms of transportation in Taiwan, people have begun to develop ways to make them more sustainable. Through this project, students can learn about the importance of the environment while also practicing computer science. These are just a few of the instances of how teachers try to learn about the “current and historical cultures of their students” (Kapor Center, 2021) and design projects related to their students’ lives. As many of the topics in the projects were new to me, I also had the opportunity to learn about the culture of Taiwanese students. Both the textbooks and projects showed the interdisciplinary nature of Taiwan’s STEM curriculum.
Finally, Component Four of the The Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Computer Science Education Framework discusses student voice and agency. Almost every high school I went to had student clubs for computer science. Encouraged by their teachers and through the push of changes implemented along with the new Curriculum Guidelines for 12-Year Basic Education, students led these clubs and picked their topics to teach their classmates. Many teachers used peer review in the classroom, supporting students in peer-to-peer teaching and learning. To ensure student voice, in addition to the regular feedback surveys given to students, one teacher mentioned making adjustments during different periods of the day if they noticed one group of students less interested in a lesson. One of the most inspiring moments from my classroom observations came from how a teacher differentiated a project to allow students of different backgrounds access the same content. As computer science is a required course in high school, students come from a wide range of experiences. One teacher designed an assignment such that there were different levels, all covering the same coding material. Students were tasked with creating images to practice nested loops: one of the images was in black and white, while the more challenging pictures were in color. This low-floor high ceiling project showcased how Taiwanese educators “honor and respect the diverse ways that students process and learn information, striving to be mindful and inclusive in their engagement” (Kapor, 2021).
6. Global Perspective to Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Computer Science Education
After having the opportunity to think about culturally responsive-sustaining computer science pedagogy from a global perspective, I started to wonder what conditions are needed to support teachers across differences between education systems.
Many Taiwanese teachers in interviews mentioned how they wished they had more time. One teacher thought it was great that in the United States, I had the same amount of time to teach computer science compared to the other high school classes. This is because different high school classes in Taiwan can have a variable number of units. Most high schools I observed taught computer science two hours a week for a semester; my class meets for 3.75 hours a week for an entire year in the US, so I have almost four times the amount of class time. Because each class is shorter, some Taiwanese teachers’ schedules include many computer science periods . This meant that some teachers taught three to four hundred students per semester, making strong relationships with students challenging.
In honor of the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport TPE airport, I’m calling this idea Time for Personalized Education or TPE.
What would educators do with more Time for Personalized Education? Multiple teachers mentioned more projects and different projects. One teacher wants not just to give math problems, but believes that longer projects allow for student voice and choice, whether or not students choose to study CS in the future. Another teacher mentioned that in the unit on data science, more time is needed for the class to explore data independently. This directly relates to Component Two of the framework for students to “explore their identities to develop CS projects that reflect their passions and interests” (Kapor, 2021). In addition to the content of projects, one educator mentioned her desire to rethink assessment and grading, moving away from high-stakes testing to open-ended creative projects.
Currently, some Taiwanese high schools have honors computer science classes that meet up to five hours a week with small class sizes. Teachers have mentioned they often are able to build the strongest relationships in these classes.
One important conclusion I drew is that as we encourage more CS teachers to teach culturally responsively, we should ensure they’re set up for success: small class sizes and enough class time. As I have learned through my experience in Taiwan, not all computer science classes are afforded the same amount of time and have a low student-to-teacher ratio. Despite these challenges, teachers are implementing many components of culturally responsive-sustaining computer science pedagogy. If educators are empowered with more Time for Personalized Education, more students will have access to equitable CS classroom experiences.
6.1 On the power of time and community
An anecdote on the power of Time for Personalized Education and community: I made assumptions about one of the first classes I observed, where all the students seemed very quiet and obedient. But through the strength of the relationships and the community built over time, it became one of the liveliest classes I’ve observed. By the end of the semester, students were very responsive to the teacher’s questions. They used their voice to share their thoughts and opinions with the whole class while collaborating with their classmates.
7. Future Work
This is just the beginning of many possible research topics. Future questions include how different equity issues in Taiwan connect to computer science education. For example, a teacher I interviewed mentioned the divide between urban and rural. In addition, there is an opportunity for more research into the access and engagement of Indigenous communities with CS. More broadly, researchers can consider what culturally relevant pedagogy looks like in different parts of the world. As my observations of teachers and classrooms in Taiwan align strongly with the Kapor framework, culturally responsive-sustaining computer science is universal. Still, I wonder if there are aspects that are culture-specific too. A question to ask is how each country’s unique history contribute to culturally relevant pedagogy.
Through my time in Taiwan and with the help of all the amazing educators, I realized the importance of community at all levels. Not only did I observe students supporting each other in class, but I saw teachers collaborating in departments, administration supporting CS departments, collaboration across high schools throughout the country with support from the government and the Ministry of Education, partnerships between the universities and teachers, and more. I believe that community helps make Taiwan’s high school computer science education so strong.
As the Moving towards a vision of equitable computer science report highlights through its recommendation to “Connect CS teachers to collaborative communities,” all these forms of collaboration help support educators in the work of culturally responsive-sustaining computer science (Koshy 2022). Even though there is less class time in Taiwan, I saw countless examples of culturally relevant pedagogy. I’ve only been able to describe a few of these cases, and I know there are many more I didn’t get a chance to observe. As the CS education community looks to expand culturally responsive-sustaining computer science broadly, it’s essential to consider what differentiated supports are needed in education systems worldwide. In Taiwan, teachers consistently felt they could teach more culturally responsively with more class time and smaller class sizes. These critical ideas of community and Time for Personalized Education will help create equitable computer science education for all students in Taiwan and throughout the world.
Thank you to everyone at Foundation for Scholarly Exchange, especially Dr. Nadeau and Charlie Cheng, for this opportunity. I’m grateful for the support of everyone at IREX, in particular Peter Boller. Thank you to my hosts at NTNU, 吳校長, and 育慈教授. Thank you to all the educators in Taiwan: 怡芬老師，芳蘭老師，喻文老師，凌倩老師，俊卿老師，雅淳老師，
The author of this publication/website/blog/etc. is a participant of the Fulbright
Distinguished Awards in Teaching Research Program (Fulbright DA), a program sponsored by
the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) with funding
provided by the U.S. Government and administered by IREX. The views and information
presented are the participant’s own and do not represent the U.S. Department of State, the
Fulbright Program, or IREX.
Computer Science Teachers Association (2020). CSTA Standards for Computer Science Teachers. Retrieved from https://csteachers.org/teacherstandards.
Kapor Center. (2021). The Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Computer Science Education Framework.
Koshy, S., Twarek, B., Bashir, D., Glass, S., Goins, R., Cruz Novohatski, L., & Scott, A. (2022). Moving towards a vision of equitable computer science: Results of a landscape survey of PreK-12 CS teachers in the United States.
Retrieved from: https://landscape.csteachers.org.
林育慈, 吳正已 (2016). 運算思維與中小學資訊科技課程.
Managing Editor: Chih-Hsuan Tsao 曹芷瑄