What can Tunisia learn from Taiwan's education system?
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Teachers' image and social status have been suffering from a continuous decline throughout the world. For the past decades, young Tunisian generations have not been competing to enter the teaching profession. Now, teaching has become their plan Z. University students aspire to become entrepreneurs, engineers, doctors, and lawyers provided that these fields bring both prestige and monetary compensation. Unfortunately, this phenomenon has been affecting the quality of teaching all around the world including Tunisia. Teachers are no longer passionate and motivated; they are simply surviving every day. What is even more alarming is that even the self-driven educators quickly lose their motivation once they enter the system. While this global trend is unfolding, Taiwan seems to be the anomaly. Taiwanese teachers seem to hold a decent position in Taiwanese society. In fact, “major surveys in both metropolitan and rural areas in Taiwan show that more than 80% of elementary and secondary school teachers are happy about both the intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of teaching.” The best students apply to educational programs and compete to become teachers. This article is an attempt to explore the potential factors that contributed to shaping the image of educators, and hence attracting talented teachers and retaining them; it is not suggesting to blindly copy the Taiwanese example.
Taiwanese teachers' perception is founded on a traditional respect towards educators and a teacher-centered governmental reform.
Before exploring the government policies which positively impacted teacher recruitment and retention, let's have a look at what could have been a source of inspiration for them:
Chinese and Japanese Cultural Influence:
Taiwanese have always perceived a teacher as a learned scholar (jingshi), a moral figure (renshi), and a person to whom all people should look up (sensi). In other words, a teacher had a unique power to shape younger generations by his or her knowledge, values, and character. Therefore, traditionally, teachers were "always placed on the same level as 'heaven, earth, emperor and parents' (tien, di, jun, qin, shi) in the temple of worship.” We can observe this high respect in the celebration of Teachers' Day in Taiwan where "official ceremonies are performed in Confucius' Temple to commemorate 'the Supreme Master Teacher.' This is also an occasion for honoring today's distinguished teachers who exemplify the ideal of moral persons of knowledge (jingshi renshi)." Furthermore, during the Japanese colonization, Taiwanese students had limited access to the domains of medicine and education which gave teachers the same prestige as doctors at the time.
Teachers in Taiwan have extrinsic incentives to join an educational track and adopt it as a career.
In addition to the prestigious historical image of teaching as a profession, the Taiwanese government has invested considerable resources in recruiting academically talented students to the teacher training institutions (e.g. National Taiwan Normal University).
Incentives to join education programs
For over two decades, they provided "tuition waivers, free room and board and subsidies for books and clothing" attracting students who could have become doctors or engineers. Although recently the financial support was revoked by the government, it had a positive impact on the quality of the pool of Taiwanese teachers.
Incentives to continue their teaching career
With regards to teacher retainment, to this day, educators working in public schools have a number of extrinsic incentives to stay in the positions they hold. Upon university graduation, teachers are assigned to public schools with the expectation to serve for at least 5 years in return to benefiting from the free university education. Moreover, their entry salary is 25% higher than the average entry-level salary of regular college graduates. Teacher's compensation includes benefits such as but not limited to:
A two-month summer and one-month winter vacation (full-year salary with a 1.5-month bonus
Exemption from income tax (for primary and junior high school teachers)
A government-funded pension program with the possibility to retire as early as at the age of 50 with the full pension (equal to 75 to 95% of their regular salaries) and total benefits.
Tunisia should start investing resources into teachers that are not exclusively monetary.
As much as Taiwan's example is promising and could be worth following, Tunisia is not Taiwan economically speaking. Our country does not have resources equivalent to Taiwan's. However, the future of our youth should not depend on the sacrifice of our teachers. Here are suggestions for motivating our teachers:
1- Prepare them well
The entrance test (CAPES) does not measure the teachers’ readiness to enter the classroom. Educators need to go through pre-service training providing them with the theory along with a classroom experience. Such preparation may partially exist in Tunisia, but it does not touch most of the new educators and the quality could be improved.
2- Give them autonomy
As much as the inspector’s role is essential when it comes to guidance and mentorship, it seems that it grew to add more pressure on educators and instill fear within their relationship with their mentors. I suggest giving teachers more autonomy in the way they choose to design and deliver their lesson plans as long as they are meeting the learning objectives of the curriculum. Here, supervisors can provide optional suggestions and objective feedback that holds educators accountable without the tension of losing their position. Giving teachers the autonomy they need will unleash their creativity and innovation in meeting the students’ needs and add more excitement and passion to their everyday life.
3- Recognize their efforts
The worst employers are those who are not grateful and do not recognize their employees’ efforts. Teachers are human beings whose motivation partially relies on extrinsic factors. Creating opportunities to celebrate all teachers and especially those who have exceeded expectations is essential. This could be in the form of a special ceremony on Teacher’s Day or a ritual of gratitude in schools. Here there is a possibility to be creative and generous.
4- Provide a healthy work environment
This includes the infrastructure of the schools that simply lack the basics (windows, table, boards, sanitary toilets, etc.) as well as the atmosphere and negative vibes in the schools. We need to start making sure that our schools are clean and hygienic so that teachers, as well as students, can use the toilets and other school’s resources. Second, we should provide the resources teachers need to teach so that they are not spending their modest salaries on printing papers. There are several ways of fundraising that the ministry and schools need to adopt to provide the essentials. Third, it is time to make schools more welcoming and filled with positive energy. This could be as simple as having the principle greeting students and teachers with a smile at the door instead of standing like a guard making sure that girls are wearing their uniform. We need to start building a healthy culture in our schools for both teachers and students to feel safe and excited about learning.
5- Provide mental health support
Raising our own kids is already hectic, imagine raising a couple of classes of 30 students. Teachers are not pouring knowledge into students; they are impacting them holistically as they spend more time with them than their parents. Hence, we need to provide adequate counseling resources for our educators to seek help when they need to. Furthermore, mental health issues need to be taken into consideration in preparing for the school year (e.g. scheduling)
6- Invest in their learning
Education research has enormously evolved over the past decades. So many theories have been tested and new practices have been developed to inform teaching and learning. Therefore, it is important for our educators to be aware of the new findings and applying the most up-to-date practices into their classrooms.
7- Evaluate them fairly
Evaluating teachers according to students’ outcomes in the baccalaureate is not fair. First, student outcome is subject to other more influential factors. Therefore, it is hard to conclude direct causation between teacher performance and student test results. This goes without mentioning the problematic nature of testing and its failure to give a real reflection of the student’s acquired skills. It is essential to start looking at teacher’s performance from a more comprehensive lens that takes into consideration student engagement in class, student feedback, and the value-added of teachers.
Teacher motivation is a complex equation to which we need to give attention. We also need to work closely on identifying and building a support system for our educators who are raising the next generation of citizens and leaders.
 Fwu, Bih-Jen, and Hsiou-Huai Wang. “The Social Status of Teachers in Taiwan.” Comparative Education, vol. 38, no. 2, 2002, pp. 211–224. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3099785.