"From the front of the class, the teacher perches from a podium on top of an elevated platform, overlooking a room filled wall to wall with a grid of tables. The prescribed style of education seemed to parallel this reality: a rigid system with a lacking emphasis on exploring creativity."
Nestled in the heart of Asia, Taiwan is home to a bustling economy, awe-inspiring natural landscapes, and a blend of a unique traditional culture and modernity. Cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung are world-class business hubs with streets bustling with life. This rapid modernisation however has outpaced institutions such as its education system, which is fundamental in ensuring that the next generation is properly equipped to adapt to the changes in society.
Stepping into a classroom as a volunteer teacher in Taiwan is as you’d expect, very different to an Australian class. The junior high school students were in the heat of sitting high-stake examinations to progress into senior high. For most, they have no choice but to appease the cultural expectations of honour and success. Every student had their individual aspiration, sometimes conflicting with what their parents wanted most. Some considered pursuing vocational school afterwards, some sketched their dreams in their notebooks.
From the front of the class, the teacher perches from a podium on top of an elevated platform, overlooking a room filled wall to wall with a grid of tables. The prescribed style of education seemed to parallel this reality: a rigid system with a lacking emphasis on exploring creativity. On a typical school day, students arrive at 7:30 to undertake chores around the school (a Japanese methodology to instill values of discipline and hard work). Classes sandwich lunchtime and a midday nap (yes, this is a thing!) before officially ending at 5 in the afternoon. Some students will stay back for cram school, which runs later into the evening. It’s a reality that was difficult to accept, I felt so passionate about the classroom experience as a way to facilitate student development and learning.
I remember having an eye-opening conversation I had with Jerry, a student from the National Taipei University, where he compared Taiwan’s education system with South Korea’s:
“Taiwan is similar in many ways with South Korea. Comparable sizes, population, and a similar work ethic. However Taiwan does not have the international presence South Korea has, mainly because English is not as widely used here. Characteristically, Taiwanese people are perceived as more timid than Koreans, who are seen as more aggressively driven. This is sometimes used to explain why they have more ubiquitous household names such as Samsung and Hyundai.The education system needs to be a better platform for students to reach their best potential.”
Taiwan’s Ministry of Education is determined to make positive changes towards the nation’s education ethos and structure in its 12 Year Curriculum for Basic Education (which started implementation after my exchange). The vision is to “Facilitate Self-actualization, Adaptive Learning to Individual Fulfillment, and Lifelong Learning.” This strategy is in light of rapid social changes, an aging population and slowing birth rate - a trend which places a strain in the supply and demand of services and in the economy.
Progress is gradual, but if anything, it’s worth unlocking the massive potential in young people. There has never been a better time to see change happen than now, both as a student and as a teacher in Taiwan.
On my last day of exchange, I went to my usual breakfast joint, bringing with me a pack of Tim Tams to offer the staff as a token of gratitude. The owner greeted me, and upon finding out it was my last day, said: “my daughter has been in your classes, and she comes home telling me that she wants to learn English so that she can better communicate with foreigners like you, and to travel the world. She now comes home with a bounce in her step.” Naturally, I was awe-struck.
The footprint I wanted to leave behind was that of a curious explorer with a hint of purpose. What I discovered was that the simple act of volunteering overseas can inspire others to follow suit to walk an exciting, uncharted path.
This article aims to raise awareness about Sustainable Development Goal #4: Quality Education
“By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development”
To find an opportunity to contribute towards the goal, visit https://www.aiesecaustralia.org/youth