Educating Expat Children in Taichung
This is a difficult subject to tackle. Choosing how to educate your children in any country, in any system is challenging. Add in language and cultural differences along with a potential inability to communicate and you have a very unique situation.
What I hope to do is provide expat parents in Taichung and Taiwan with some help understanding the situation as well as what to expect in the public education system here. In addition I’ll provide information about some of the choices available along with some advice from other expatriates who have already walked this road. I will supplement this with advice from Taiwanese educators.
I am writing this article primarily for expatriates who come from a Western cultural background or may have married into the Taiwanese culture. Perhaps you speak English at home or a mix of languages. You may be considering or are already educating your children in the Taiwanese system. You may or may not have an ability to communicate in Chinese. Every situation is unique and there is a profound difference if the parents are both expats as opposed to just one of the parents being an expat.
There are at least three distinct types of families I can identify: (1) Both parents are expatriates and moved to Taiwan with children. (2) Both parents are expatriates but had children in Taiwan. (3) One parent is an expatriate married to a Taiwanese. In all of these families, language, culture and value systems come into play.
The group of expatriates is a fairly small group of people. According to the latest government statistics (January 2015) available at the writing of this document, the foreign numbers are listed below. These are the adults numbers. The total number of expatriate children in Taichung under the age of fifteen is 632. A good majority of those children are being educated at Morrison Academy and the American School of Taichung. So that leaves a fairly small number of expatriate children who are in the public schools or are being homeschooled. I realize that does not account for everyone, but it’s a start.
In Taichung, the largest groups of potentially English speaking foreigners are:
New Zealand 42
South Africa 150
Certainly other countries are represented in Taichung, but the vast majority of them have less than 30 people, most have fewer than 10.
According to the statistical data, these students parents are foreigners as reported: (there are no numbers for high school, which could indicate there are no students, or those numbers are not reported)
. This does not include children in blended families who enroll under their Taiwanese citizenship.
94 40 Elementary
80 33 Junior High
The other nations represented are all Asian nations. The only two English speaking countries are the Philippines and Singapore.
Your experience may be different than what is reported here depending on a variety of factors, but based on the responses collected from my survey, you may consider these things from parents who have placed children in schools here in the Taiwanese education system.
Now to the actual survey results and comments: Here is what I have collected from teachers, educators, students and parents.
- They will more than likely learn to speak Mandarin Chinese fluently and in addition learn some reading and writing using traditional characters. Depending on how long they are in the system will determine the actual number of characters and level of fluency they attain. Elementary students typically learn around 10 characters per day on average.
- They will experience a unique, wonderful and very different culture up-close and firsthand.
- They will make some wonderful and lifelong friends.
- They will learn valuable self-management and study skills that could help them down the road in school and work.
- The initial shock of entering a completely foreign language environment (mostly for the true expat family) may be overwhelming, to the point of complete meltdown for some.
- Communication with the teacher and administrators will more than likely be difficult.
- There will be little if any language support in your native tongue. The system does not and is not obligated to provide it. The obligation is on you to provide your own.
- Depending on what school they are in, they may experience some bullying, taunting, and a high level of attention that many are not accustomed to in our home culture. Many parents indicated that their children were often stared at regularly, even after being in the same class for a long period of time.
What you can do to prepare?
(These are suggestions drawn from the research, personal study of the culture and education system, Taiwanese teachers and others familiar with this system)
Enlist a trusted friend to serve as your go-between, someone who you can give as a contact between the school and you who is fluent in Mandarin to help you communicate effectively. Someone who understands your viewpoint, but can also communicate inside the system. The teacher / staff should feel comfortable calling or communicating with this person, just as they would a parent. Be sure to find ways to compensate this person for their help.
Recognize that for any Taiwanese teacher, having a foreign child in their classroom creates some level of disruption. The other students will be distracted. Do your best to understand, have empathy for the situation they are being put in. Teachers around the world are already overworked and underpaid. It is no different here.
Be prepared for the intensity and homework to increase with every year. The system is slowly beginning to change, but it is going to be a slow change. It has been in place for hundreds and hundreds of years and it will not change quickly. Also, there are thousands of businesses that are dependent on the current system that will fight against any change to the current way of doing things.
Keep aware of your child’s emotional state. Some children do well, some don’t. Be careful that you don’t over-pressure your child to survive at the cost of your child’s emotional and mental well-being. This is just good parenting. Don’t assume everything is okay just because it’s quiet and don’t assume everything is bad just because they are complaining.
If you are able, volunteer in your child’s classroom when possible. Even if you are unable to speak the language. Use your go-between to help figure out what you can and can’t do – and then get involved. More than likely, there will be another mother or someone who can provide some help to you in the translation area when you are on campus. This will also help you build a relationship with the teacher.
Several parents suggested not asking for special treatment. The Taiwanese teachers echoed this. Taiwanese teachers are expected to reach certain performance goals based upon how their class as a whole does. If they have one student who doesn’t do their homework, doesn’t turn in assignments, doesn’t keep up – this can affect their job performance rating. Generally speaking, teachers have little if any leeway to provide individualized attention or instruction because of the system. There are too many children, tests and reports to take care of.
Some teachers can be very strict, even taking note of who naps and who doesn’t, who scores well and who doesn’t, which can translate into time taken away from them at recess, etc. You should make sure you have very clear and precise conversations with the principal and teacher about how the classroom your child will be in will be run, expectations, performance, punishment, etc. Again, it may change nothing, but at least you can be prepared and help your child be prepared.
Most schools will post grades in and out of the classroom. It is considered a motivating factor to those who perform poorly.
Taiwanese teachers have expectations placed upon them by their schools, principals and the Ministry of Education. You may have different expectations, but they are not free to adjust to the individual needs of your child. Don’t expect special treatment. You may receive some special attention, but you are not paying extra to receive it and you are potentially creating extra work for no extra pay.
If you don’t read and write Chinese, you won’t be able to help your child with their homework, which may mean enrolling them in a buxiban 補習班 or hiring a tutor. Even math problems are written using Chinese characters. This will involve an additional budget expense.
You won’t be able to understand the communication from their teachers, which will mean becoming dependent on friends and/or co-workers for help.
One special note for those who plan on keeping their children in the system past elementary school. There is a large jump in the expectations beginning in middle school. It is not enough to have just learned to speak Chinese. If your child primarily lives in an English or Western environment, please contact me for some additional information and contacts to help you through this transition.
If both parents are expatriates (from the West), there is a high likelihood you will have a more difficult time with your child’s education here.
In order to understand some of the distinct differences between our two education systems, here is a helpful quote from MaYingYi that one of the parents pointed me to.
The American system emphasizes individuality and diversity in learning. It values creativity over conformity, and eschews rote memorization and drill learning. Students in the American education system are encouraged to have fun while learning. They are taught that the pursuance of individual interests is paramount. While some applaud American system for its ability to produce creative outstanding talents, I argue that creativity is sometimes contingent upon solid foundations. Some subjects, particularly math and science, require that students do exercises, which might not be entirely fun, in order that they build a solid foundation for future learning. Those without a solid training during elementary and secondary schools may risk losing the capacity to utilize their creativity in math and science-related subjects in college. Psychologically, students are often defeated before they even get to college, having already decided that math is not for them. Subsequently, they opt out of any math and science related courses in college. This is evidenced by the low achievement levels of average American students in math and science, and the low proportion of American undergraduate students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. It is ironic that, in a tight job market, STEM majors are very marketable in America.
By contrast, the Chinese education system emphasizes exercises and testing. Students of the same grade level are expected to learn the same materials and are constantly evaluated by a range of different tests. Those who struggle must generally do more exercise to catch up. They are pushed by parents and teachers, who have high expectations for them. Such expectations and common standards mean that most Chinese students are hardworking and resilient and see education as arduous rather than fun.
You may also want to consider these additional factors:
Depending on your worldview, you should be aware that Confucianism is the underlying worldview that is taught in the Taiwanese education system. If your child attends public school, they will be taught this system. For some people, this may not matter, for those from a Judeo-Christian background; you should probably do some homework to understand what is taught and how it is taught.
I would highly recommend you read some articles to understand as much about GuanXi 關係 and also the relationship between teacher and student as possible. You should also learn how to communicate in a more Asian way if possible. You may not speak Chinese, but even if you are using a translator, your body language and tone can communicate volumes. You can do a lot of damage quickly if you are not careful.
Prepare yourself for some hard days. I hope you don’t have them, but your child may experience some difficult times. Based upon the input I have received from this survey, most (but not all) of the parents described some difficulties their children went through going to Chinese schools. Many have had a great experience.
Schools in Taichung:
Tuition for government elementary schools ranges from NT $2000 – $4,500 per semester.
Private schools are significantly more expensive and you need to know that some Chinese will be required. At Washington High School, only the High School is primarily in English. There is one class in Chinese which is mandated by the government. At this time there are no Western students enrolled, only other Asian families.
Donghai Elementary is around NT$45,000 per semester.
Donghai Junior High school is NT$80,000 per semester
Washington Junior High School is NT$190,000 per semester
Washington High School is NT$200,000 per semester
AST – American School in Taichung (not including additional fees)
Elementary School (G1~G5) NTD 161,000
Middle School (G6 ~ G8) NTD 175,000
High School (G9~G12) NTD 191,500
Morrison Academy (not including additional fees)
Elementary (Grades K-5) 179,500
Middle (Grades 6-8) 196,250
Secondary (Grades 9-12) 221,000
This information comes by way of fellow Taichung Expat Sam Livingston who collected it in the last couple of years:
$14,800/註冊 $5,900/敎材 $10,100/月
Season Art School
Four Seasons Art school
We know an American couple who have a son at one of the branches of this school. They really liked it. When their son first started going, the mother would drop in at the school to check in on him and observe the classes. They make this easy to do without disrupting the class. Their son has been going there for a couple years. They invited us along one day when they went to pick him up and showed us around. Today, we did the formal tour at the branch in Xitun, which is less than a block from where we live. Beside how conveniently close it is, we like the following:
* it has the best designed, newest, cleanest facility. This is not really that important to us, but it really stands out from all other preschools we’ve visited.
* the teachers and staff are all friendly and professional, but they are pretty young–a minor red flag to me. It’d be nice if it seemed more teachers were making a career there.
* the food they prepare is high quality. whole grains, organic vegetables, etc. To some degree it seems like over expensive food to appeal to the yuppie parents, but it the menu looks varied and well balanced and the kitchen clean.
* it seems very secure. It is hard to see someone sneaking in or kids sneaking out. Since I live so close I’ve often walked by the school during drop off and pickup times and I’ve accompanied friends when they picked up their son. I’m impressed with how professional and well organized they are.
* the “curriculum” seems rich, lots of fun, educational activities, arts projects, field trips, exercise…no text books not a huge emphasis on rote learning for the preschool kids.
* the English classes are taught by native speakers…I don’t care so much about English education in preschool, I only speak to my son in English at home. Also, I’m not plugged into the Taichung ESL community, so I don’t know how qualified and experienced the teachers are there or what the turnover is like (foreign teacher turnover tends to be very high, it isn’t uncommon in many schools with foreign teachers for the kids to have their teachers changing in within the same semester). The one benefit, however, may be a bit more ethnic diversity among the teaching staff.
The costs are:
Registration: 18,600 TWD per semester.
Monthly tuition: 10,350 TWD
Uniforms, backpack, and other misc. items: a few thousand more.
Insurance = 153 per semester.
This school does not have an English website. If you need help with translation, let me know.
This was the higher-end local preschool before Four Seasons Arts school opened. In many ways it is similar, just not as trendy. The facility is set up very similar to Four Seasons, but it looks a little tacky and run down. The principle at the FengJia branch has a masters in education from the US. Both the principle and Zhu Ren were very professional, experienced and left a good impression. We didn’t have a lot of exposure to the teachers. The educational approach is similar to Four Seasons. The only complaints we heard about Emile was from Taiwanese parents who feel it doesn’t “teach anything” since they don’t load the kids up with books. I’m sure they’d have the same to say about Four Seasons. Personally, loading a toddler up with books and cramming in math and vocab is really not what I’m looking for, so I’m fine with the “curriculum” at Emile.
Registration = 18,500 a semester
Montly tuition= 10,500
Uniforms, backback, misc. = 2,450 a semester.
Insurance = 204 a semester
The only reason I would consider Emile over Four Seasons, is that you can put your kids in half day at Emile. The half-day tuition is only about 20% less than full time, but it is cheaper and we are not sure if we want or son to go full day.
How to Enroll in a Taiwanese School:
Registration is based upon your Household Registration – if either the husband or wife is Taiwanese, you will be tied to your home address or that of a relative. If you are a both foreigners, you may be able to use a work address in place of your home address. Unless you are fluent in Mandarin, you should take a trusted friend to communicate at the time of registration to smooth the way and make sure there are no misunderstandings.
There have been a few families place their children in FengJia GuoXiao. These parents describe a fairly different experience with this smaller elementary school up in the hills. Apparently, there is no need to move your household registration to join this school, according to the school’s website.
Fengjia Elementary School
LeYe Elementary School is another Taichung Elementary school which is recommended by Sam Livingston and his wife. Here is their review of this school.
We recently transferred our kids from Chunghsiao Elementary School so that our kids could have more time for us to tutor them at home in English. Although they had good grades at their Chunghsiao, we were tired of them having to spend 3+ hours a day in school. Also one of their teachers had a bad temper and often hit her students because she lacked control of her students.
樂業國小 Leye Elementary School Student Population 120 typical elementary school students (Average class size-15) 25 special needs students 60 preschool students They are looking for more students and do not appear to have a waiting list as some schools would.
Because they have a very large special education program, many of those students are able to join with the typical students for most of the day in class together. They are able to keep the average class size at 14 students because many teachers have 2-3 special needs students in the classroom with the typical students. Their are also a number of teacher aides for the special need students who are included in the standard classrooms. Because of this environment their is more possibility for individual attention and a closer social environment.
I believe foreign students such as my children would do better in this type of environment. If you want to get a tour of the school, please talk to Director Ma and try to arrange for a visit with their School Principal ahead. They have a lot of playrooms one for basketball, a table tennis room, a mini indoor playground and ballpit, a sensory toy room.
The Counseling Director gave me a tour Ms. Huang Yuwen, she says regular students may also use it if the teacher opens the room for them. There is an afterschool program open from 4-6 pm. It is not instructional, just tutors students with their homework load and gives them additional practice sheets if need be. Their class time and exams are standard subjects as required for public schools.
I also interviewed the principal. The principal says that their homework load is much lighter than Zhongxiao elementary students. At their school, their speciality is life skills coursework. They spend time in cooking, nature, and outdoor activities to a greater extent than most other schools. They are part of an ‘experimental’ school system with some mandate from the government to as they do. They also have special education resource rooms and the principal Currently serves as “Taichung District Special Education Resource Centre” Director-General. Their website also says they their “School emphasis is on life education, life education, ecological education.” Ms. Huang says the average age of the teachers is fairly young in their 30s, some even in their 20s. She is prob 35 or so and feels rather old there with her 12 years of experience at the school. Their are some older teachers but not very many out of the faculty of 25 or so teachers.
The location of the school is quiet, as it is next to many vacant areas of land. However, it is conveniently close about a 3 minute drive to the main train station. It is also 2 blocks from the #75 bus stop by Jiancheng road. #51 bus stop is also nearby about 8 minutes walk away. Note that their website is listed on Google maps in number form i.e. http://184.108.40.206/school/web/index.php I highly recommend this school!
GPS: 24.138006, 120.694369