​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Presentation (please click on the link to access the presentation)

Speaker Position and Institution Presentation Date of the original presentation
Professor Barry O’Sullivan Head of Assessment Research and Development, British Council, UK
English in the Education System: Issues and Solutions 23 March 2021

Key Recommendations

Professor Barry O’Sullivan, ​Head of Assessment Research and Development , British Council 


Developing a Taiwan language policy

  • The Government of Taiwan should devise a locally appropriate language policy that will include provision for English language across all levels of the education system. This policy should be built around the concept of the comprehensive learning system.
  • The policy should contain both a theory of change and a theory of action.
  • The theory of change should take into account educational, social and cultural issues that impact on the education system and its stakeholders.
  • It should reflect all elements of the comprehensive learning system (CLS) (see below) and be built on an understanding that all three core elements are symbiotically related.
  • The theory of action should provide a very clear plan of how bilingual goals can be achieved, what needs to happen for the bilingual programme to work, and how the vast number of stakeholders involved in an education system like Taiwan’s can be integrated into the programme.
  • According to Funnel and Rogers definition "The theory of change is about the central processes or drivers by which change comes about for individuals, groups, or communities - for example, psychological processes, social processes, physical processes, and economic processes. The theory of change could derive from a formal, research-based theory or an unstated, tacit understanding about how things work...The theory of action explains how programs or other interventions are constructed to activate these theories of change."
  • Policy should be driven by a commitment to move rapidly away from the current receptive two-skills approach to a production-focused four-skills approach. All aspects of English (and other) language provision should be explicitly aligned with this objective:
  • Develop a comprehensive communication plan to communicate the theory of change and theory of action to all stakeholders. This communication plan should reassure all key stakeholder groups that their needs and expectations are being taken into consideration. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  • Be positive and learn from other countries success stories. For example, Madrid’s hybrid system of bilingual and non-bilingual schools has generated data that shows when bilingual students graduate, they are at least at the same level if not surpassing their non-bilingual peers.
  • Be patient, careful planning takes a lot of hard work and a considerable amount of time. Creating a bilingual education system is the work of at least a generation.


Developing a Comprehensive English Language Learning System (CLS)

The English language education system can be broken down into three components:

  • The Curriculum i.e. what is taught. This incudes both the formal and informal curriculum.
  • The Delivery i.e. how the curriculum is taught. This incudes all aspects of the delivery of the curriculum: teacher selection, training, accreditation, professional development and leadership; teaching and  learning materials; and the physical environment in which the delivery takes place
  • The Assessment i.e. how progress through the curriculum is measured. This includes developmental (e.g., diagnostic, aspects of progress, formative); and judgemental (placement, aspects of progress, achievement, proficiency, summative).

For an English language education system to generate the desired learning outcomes, all three components of the system need to be aligned, therefore any reforms to the education system should be implemented holistically. If they are implemented in isolation, reforms will not deliver all of the desired impact.



  • Review that the new 2019 curriculum adequately reflects a four skills approach. This may or may not result in some proposed changes or additions to the curriculum.
  • Map the learning journey across the key transition points (primary to junior high, junior high to senior high, senior high to undergraduate, undergraduate to post graduate) within the Taiwanese education system, and build transitions between the levels into the Taiwanese system in a way that is meaningful to help learners in Taiwan to develop smoothly and effectively through the system.​​​​​​​
  • Localising standards will ensure that these standards drive the curriculum, the delivery of teaching and learning and assessment in a coherent and cohesive manner that is likely to lead to greater successes.
  • The curriculum, delivery, and assessment should be aligned to a recognised international English language framework such as the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages)
  • Ideally the CEFR should be localised for use in Taiwan, much as was achieved in Japan with the CEFR-J.
  • This would have beneficial long-term effects on Taiwan’s English language education as it would bring local teaching, learning and assessment into closer interaction with one another, as well as facilitating smoother interchanges with international suppliers (teacher training, classroom materials and assessments/tests). 


Delivery - Teaching 

  • Without a highly motivated and expert cadre of teachers no reform initiative can succeed. For this reason, the main, short-term focus should be on Taiwan’s teachers.
  • Teachers need to have both pre-service and in-service training that will develop their ability to teach all four skills, and local teacher trainers need to have the skills to provide this training.
  • Importing talent may result in an over reliance on teachers from overseas, may divert resources away from developing local talent, and is not as sustainable as investing in local talent in the long term.
  • The immediate focus should be on the productive skills.
  • Commit to changing the concept of teaching English as a subject to teaching English as a skill, which necessitates focus on communication and interaction.
  • Benchmark the current situation of teacher language level: focus on in-training teachers at first, then look to roll out an assessment of in-service teachers consider offering significant training and incentives such as time for study and achievement-based renumeration.
  • Conduct an analysis of teacher needs – what types of training (e.g. specific areas of pedagogy) teachers might consider they would best benefit from.
  • Devise a locally appropriate competence framework for teachers, and set targets for teachers around language and pedagogy training  based on the competency framework.
  • Build training programmes around the interpretation of the curriculum/materials.


Delivery - The Materials

  • Education reform is also dependent on teachers and learners having access to high quality materials that are clearly linked to the curriculum and that clearly reflect the whole philosophy that underpins the system (i.e., an action-oriented communicative approach).
  • Review the current textbooks (from a four-skills perspective) and to ensure there is a clear link between the curriculum and the textbooks.
  • Review of materials for informal learning opportunities (for teachers and students) – entertainment, media and educational technology sector involvement.
  • Consider how a new system will deal with issues of inequality of access, for example to technology or private language tuition.
  • Identify and target a solutions-driven team of local experts to build an understanding of the concept of language learning in the wild in Taiwan – why and how do teenagers in Taiwan use English online. This can help to build: Self-training apps and online programmes (pronunciation, comprehensibility, artificial intelligence (AI)-evaluated short and longer turns etc.)
  • Enhance opportunities to use English in meaningful ways online


Delivery - Infrastructure

  • Review classroom design to ensure that they allow for a communication-oriented teaching and learning approach



  • Schools need to implement formative and summative assessment of all four skills, because if schools don't assess all four skills, teachers won't teach all four skills, and students won't learn all four skills.


Formative Assessment

  • Formative assessment is developmental in nature. It is not scored and does not contribute to year-end or programme-end evaluation of learning. Instead, it is designed to support learning. It can be in-class or out-of-class.
  • Build into teacher training programmes a capacity to include formative assessment aligned to the curriculum goals in their classes.
  • Work with materials developers to introduce systematic formative assessment into their textbooks and related teacher books.
  • Work with EdTech providers to create digital self-support materials.


Summative Assessment

  • Despite all best efforts, high-stakes summative tests tend to be a key factor in how the curriculum is delivered in the classroom.
  • As long as the learning system in Taiwan is focused on a very narrow interpretation of language (i.e. grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening) the move to a more communication oriented approach will be difficult to impossible to realise.
  • Put together an expert team to set out a medium- and long-term plan to further professionalise language testing capability.
  • Move towards four-skills testing within the school system. This is likely to include a focus on AI-driven scoring of productive skills.
  • Work with local and international examination providers to either devise or identify suitable four-skills approaches to assessment and move away from a receptive-only approach to recruitment and the determination of university exit requirements.