Mass formal education is a feature of modern societies all too often taken for granted or overlooked in mainstream sociological analysis. In this respect, the field of Taiwan studies is no exception. This introductory essay sets the three papers of this topical section in historical and comparative perspective, particularly in relation to East Asia. The papers show how education policy in contemporary Taiwan has evolved in a context of vibrant democracy, economic transition, demographic squeeze, and, looming over all, the threat from the Chinese mainland. Our focus falls especially on higher education and language instruction, and their involvement in debates over economic prosperity, security, identity, and Taiwan’s place in the world. A central theme of this introductory essay is the way in which educational debate in Taiwan is conditioned by awareness of insecurity—at individual, familial and societal levels. The intensely competitive, human capital-oriented approach to education that predominates there is bound up in complex ways with the insecurities of life on this island.
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