Life in Taiwan: Meeting the Educational Needs of Expat Families

TAS and TES are the biggest and best-known, but in fact Taiwan has a total of 19 international schools – and not all of them are in Taipei and not all teach in English.



The availability of quality international schools is crucial to a country’s investment climate, as one of the first things executives of multinational companies tend to ask about when considering a new assignment is the caliber of the educational facilities for their children.  

Since the establishment of the Taipei American School (TAS) – Taiwan’s first international school – in 1949, a total of 19 international schools have been founded in Taiwan. English-speaking schools are the majority, but Japanese and Korean schools can also be found in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung. Whereas most of these schools were initially established to serve the needs of the international community, nowadays they have also become an option for Taiwanese children with foreign passports (under Ministry of Education regulations, only students with foreign citizenship may enroll). In fact, ethnically Taiwanese students have become a majority in all international schools in Taiwan.

Taipei American School. TAS, the largest as well as the oldest of Taiwan’s international schools, was the only choice for American children in Taipei in the early years. The school currently has 2,200 students (kindergarten through grade 12) and will celebrate its 60th anniversary this September.

The history of TAS reflects the evolution of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. The period between 1949 and 1953 can be called the “missionary era,” as Chinese and American medical missionaries were instrumental in founding the school. Between 1954 and 1978, while the United States retained a military presence in Taiwan, the vast majority of the school’s students were the children of military personnel. Following the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1979, the school evolved into a college preparatory school with a rigorous academic program and international reputation. And since the late 1980s, it has served an increasing number of Taiwanese returning from overseas.

TAS superintendent Sharon Hennessy says the institution has “a reputation that has fueled itself,” as loyal alumni and their parents passionately spread the word about how good the school is. Chris Fay, CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi Taiwan and a TAS parent, says he considers TAS one of the finer international schools in the Asia Pacific region, due to its dedicated teachers and staff, plus devoted board members who constantly strive to create the best learning environment possible. Fay is particularly pleased that TAS strongly encourages the involvement of parents in school activities, inviting them to attend interesting theatrical and musical performances and other events throughout the year. “You get to see your own kids and the kids of your friends on stage,” he says. “There’s a strong sense of community – you feel like you’re in a small town.”

Taipei European School (TES). After TAS’s growing enrollment forced it to give priority to U.S. citizens in the early 1990s, the Europeans felt the need to develop or expand their own schools. Integrated from the previous Taipei German School, Taipei British School, and Taipei French School in 1992 – and renamed TES in 2003 – TES now has some 1,100 students from 62 countries and around 260 staff. In addition to full curricula in German, French, and English, including Chinese language and culture for all students, the school also offers students the chance to enroll in Dutch and Swedish language programs.

TES is unique in being the only truly European school outside Europe, and its high school program culminates in the prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. Besides a campus in Yangmingshan, a new primary-school campus was launched in August 2007 in the Taipei district of Shilin (on the former site of TAS).

One of the differences between TAS and the TES is the approach to teaching very young children. While the American system emphasizes the building of social skills, as well as fostering small children’s curiosity and creativity, the European system starts earlier in developing formal skills associated with reading and writing alongside the social and emotional development of the child. In the British tradition, TES stresses structure, routine, and organization without being overbearing; for example, students in the British section are required to wear uniforms. “We’ve noticed that children learn better when there is a nice structure of order, particularly for the young ones,” says John Nixon, the school’s CEO.

The European essence is certainly the school’s biggest attraction; TES celebrates the European spirit through many events and the celebration of such festivals as Bonfire Night and Carnival. “We are a piece of Europe in Taiwan,” says Nixon. Of the TES students, 40% are European passport holders, and the school hopes to maintain that proportion in order to retain its European flavor. “I felt immediately at home, seeing so many European families at the school,” says Aniko Feher, a parent from Hungary, whose family arrived in Taipei last September.

The remaining international schools in Taipei are church-affiliated. The only Catholic international school in Taiwan, Dominican International School was established in 1957 to give the children of U.S. military personnel serving in Taiwan the option of receiving Catholic education. In those years it was designated as a U.S. Department of Defense school, and it still follows an American Curriculum. The school, which is run by the Dominican Sisters, has two campuses. The main one in Taipei (K-12) has 400 students coming from nearly 40 nations, while a smaller one in Kaohsiung (K-6) has 75 students. Since most of the buildings on the Taipei campus are decades old, a major renovation project will start this summer, and it will take an estimated four to five years before the project is completed.

Although the school accepts students regardless of their religious background, it tries to promote core Christian values through required courses such as Religious Studies and Christian Living. The Holy Mass or Prayer Service is held almost every month. Sr. Josephine A. Taban-ud, OP, the Dominican International School Principal, says that “a great mission of the school is to evangelize [the students,] to teach them what is right and how to live their life.”

Morrison Academy - Bethany campus has gone through many changes both in name and location since its founding by missionaries in 1961. The school started with only six children, all from missionary families. Today it has grown to an enrollment of 220 students (K-9), about one-third from missionary families. Formerly called the “Bethany Christian School,” the school took its present name after Bethany joined the Morrison Christian Association in 1967. After completing 9th grade, students can choose to go on to high school at the main campus of Morrison Academy in Taichung, where boarding facilities are available.

Grace Christian Academy, based on the American educational system, was established in 1998 by Pastor John Chow and his American wife, Bonnie Chow, for Baptist Bible Fellowship missionaries and the expatriate community. The school has 150 students (K-12) of 17 nationalities, and 24 teachers. All faculty members are Christians, and the teaching of Bible is considered essential. In addition to academics, “an important goal for us is to help students establish their personal relationship with themselves, and between themselves and God, and that will be a life-changing experience,” says Bonnie Chow, the school’s principal. Due to the limited space in the current building in Nangang, the school will open a new campus in Neihu in two years, at which time it will undergo a major expansion of the student body.

Following the doctrine of the Seventh-Day Adventist church, Taipei Adventist American School was established in the 1950s for the children of Adventist missionaries who came to Taipei to help set up the Taiwan Adventist Hospital. The present campus in Yangmingshan, with its beautiful natural surroundings, was built in 1987. The school has 122 students (grades 1-8) and 12 teachers, all of them Adventist Christians. The school’s small size makes it possible to individualize the instruction. Children come not only to study English and other academic subjects, but also to learn Christian morals and values. Taipei Adventist Preparatory Academy, the high school section (grades 9-12) was established in 2002 and is located in Shilin.

Schools in Hsinchu

Hsinchu International School (HIS) was set up in 1981 as a company school for Philips, the Dutch consumer electronics giant. Philips Taiwan originally ran a Dutch-language school, but when the company began to increase the number of expatriate employees from other countries, it brought in educators from the United Kingdom to set up an English-language school. Rowena Lines, the head of the school, says that founding the school was a challenge due to a lack of clear legal grounding, as it was the first international school in Taiwan that had no missionary or diplomatic connections. In time, the size of Philips’ expatriate base in Hsinchu declined substantially, but development of the Hsinchu Science-based Industry Park brought many overseas families to the area.

HIS (still officially called the Hsinchu Holland International School as per Philips’ original registration) has continued to provide a full international curriculum, and today has 240 students from 20 countries and in August 2007 moved to a new purpose-built campus to provide students with a superior educational environment and resources. Mrs. Lines says she wishes to keep the size of the student body fairly small in order to preserve the school’s “family feeling” and the ability to offer the individual attention that is the key to cultivating excellent students.

The International Bilingual School is one of the five sections of the National Experimental High School within the Hsinchu Science Park. The school was the brainchild of K.T. Li, who as an influential cabinet minister from the 1960s through the 1980s is generally regarded as one of the prime architects of Taiwan’s economic development. The school was envisioned as meeting the needs of the children both of Taiwan diplomats returning from overseas and of the international technology specialists who were being attracted to work in the Hsinchu Science Park or teach in the nearby universities.

Besides a U.S.-style curriculum, students are required to take Chinese language and social studies courses with a focus on Taiwan’s history and geography. The bilingual department has 616 students (Grades 1-12) from 15 nations, and 60 full-time faculty, one-third of them from Western countries. It is the least expensive international school in Taiwan, while offering equally strong academic programs, but stringent admissions standards are applied. In addition to children from foreign families, the students are ethnic Taiwanese whose parents have returned from government assignments overseas or work in government agencies, companies operating in the Science Park, or in academic or research institutions in the Hsinchu area. As the students come from families with strong educational and socio-economic backgrounds, they have developed a reputation for excellence in both academic achievement and extracurricular accomplishments.

Pacific American School was founded two years ago by former members of the administrative leadership and faculty at Hsinchu American School. The school aims to meet the educational needs of international students in the Hsinchu area from preschool to Grade 12. It has over 100 students. PAS has a strong Advanced Placement program and concentrates on preparing students for entrance to U.S. colleges and universities.

Schools in Taichung

Operated by the Morrison Christian Association incorporated in New Jersey, Morrison Academy was founded in 1952 to serve the children of missionaries throughout Taiwan. This goal has remained unchanged over the years. Among all international schools, Morrison is the one with the most missionary children. The school started with six pupils in Taichung; now there are nearly 900 students (one-third of them from missionary families) spread among campuses in Taichung (K-12), Kaohsiung (K-9), and Taipei, where it is called Bethany (K-9). Morrison says it seeks to develop a “Christ-centered school culture” in which all students, whether or not from missionary families, experience a “Bible-integrated quality education.”

The school encourages students to be actively involved in community service and charity events such as teaching English to aboriginal children and engaging in environmental projects. Director of Development Bruce Moore says the school has tried its best to break down barriers between the school and the community in order to remove the impression that international-school students are simply wealthy kids with foreign passports.

Founded by Anna Lee – the daughter of former president Lee Teng-hui – in 1989, the American School in Tai- chung offers a full U.S. curriculum with a 22-member faculty, almost all of them American or Canadian. The program is designed to provide the “literary skills and basic knowledge to succeed” for lower-grade students and a college preparatory experience for the upper school. Formerly named the Lincoln American School, the school is located in a natural environment in the Da Keng hillside area of Taichung. It has 166 students in Grades 3 to 12. The school annually hosts a two-day Taiwan Model United Nations to help participants improve their understanding of world affairs and develop their public speaking and debating skills.

There are three English-speaking schools in Kaohsiung – Dominican School Kaohsiung, Morrison Academy Kaohsiung campus, and Kaohsiung American School (KAS.) KAS was established in 1989 for the educational needs of expatriates in the Kaohsiung-area business community. It is a private, nonsectarian pre-K-12 institution with 350 students, and offers a college preparatory program.


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