Beyond Boundaries: Nurturing Talent And Independence From An Early Age

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Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School seeks to ready its pupils for further education with valuable research skills, starting in the classroom.

As all good university leaders know, the foundations for talented students to thrive are built during their school and early education years.

For the fifth instalment in the second season of Beyond Boundaries, an interview series produced by City University of Hong Kong (CityU), the university’s president Way Kuo returned to his alma mater, Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School (JHS), to meet with its current principal, Chien-Kuo Hsu.

JHS is Taiwan’s oldest and highest-ranking high school, with notable alumni including Samuel Chao Chung Ting, winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize for Physics, and Chang-lin Tien, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

Both CityU and JHS advocate a “free learning” atmosphere, training students to think independently through combined teaching and research practices, and to contribute to society as a whole.

Kuo and Hsu discussed the factors behind the JHS’ success, as well as the school’s expectations for the future.

While there are “many types of universities and many kinds of high schools” JHS is special in that it “values all fields and excels in them”, Kuo said. “It is a high school that boasts its unfettered atmosphere of freedom. I am proud that I am an alumnus of the school,” he added.

According to Hsu, one of the factors behind JHS’ success is that students “have high expectations of themselves”, something that is reflected in their outstanding exam results.

But JHS pupils are also encouraged to be inquisitive beyond their academic work, he explained: “They have the courage to challenge authority, challenge themselves and even challenge the system.”

“I feel that if our students know just the ‘how’ but not the ‘why’, that would be a pity. We have encouraged our students to be innovative in recent years, not just [to] follow others blindly,” Hsu said.

Since the school was founded, JHS leaders have sought to “listen and communicate with students and teachers”, Hsu explained. “This helped to create such a democratic and free atmosphere…Students know that they should [question] everything they do, why they do it and know right and wrong.”

In addition to standard high school subjects, gifted pupils have access to additional programmes in maths, sciences, humanities and sports.

About 70 extracurricular societies are offered at the school – including the JHS rugby team, which has won multiple championships and attracts crowds of supporters from across the high school alumni network.

Unusually for a high school, JHS students are also encouraged to undertake an additional course in “thematic writing and expression”. Pupils are tasked with finding at least one topic of personal interest during their three years of high school, in which they learn to conduct a special research project.

“We teach them basic research methods [and] how to read research papers, to review papers written by others, and then propose new research ideas,” Hsu explained.

The practice of integrating teaching and research is one shared by both JHS and CityU, Kuo commented. For these reasons and more, JHS is a “model school” in terms of both its scholarly and societal contributions, he concluded.

Find out more about CityU’s Beyond Boundaries series.

Curled: Times Higher Education.

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