US vs Taiwanese early childhood education

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US vs Taiwanese early childhood education

Postby Teddoman » 25 Apr 2012, 09:28

With my kids now soon to enter the preschool system and eventually probably enter the public school system in the US, I'm realizing there is big debate in the US about appropriate pedagogies for early and middle childhood education. As part of No Child Left Behind legislation, a lot of US schools are pushing content curriculums down to KG, pre-K, and preschool levels, a time that was traditionally reserved for free play for those of us who grow up in the 70s or early. Most direct instruction of content is characterized as "drill and repetition" and is associated with cuts to creative curriculums or open ended play and elimination of recesses in favor of more classes and drilling and teaching to the test etc etc. I didn't really understand why this whole debate mattered until I realized my kids will soon be entering preschool and eventually the public education system amidst what amounts to a sea change in US educational practices.

The debate rages at the highest levels of academia and politics, so really you can find academic articles or politicians that support any position. Education, like most issues in the US, is highly political, and people's views can be almost religious on the subject. In academia, there's an academic paper by Greg Duncan, for example, that called "School Readiness and Later Achievement" that associates school readiness at entry to elementary school with academic achievement in much later grades, which lends support to making sure kids master a certain content level by a certain age. On the flipside are groups like The Alliance For Childhood which basically believe more playtime and use of play methods achieve better results.

I know a lot of folks on Forumosa are English teachers in Taiwan and are therefore engaged in early and middle childhood education of Taiwanese kids, and I know many of you are also parents whose kids are growing up in Taiwan. So I thought some of you might have some opinions on comparing educational systems, and might be less influenced by the dogmatism of US politics. Further, your opinions are probably well informed since many of you are active teachers.

When I was at Hess many moons ago, the daily content was taught using a mix of direct instruction and play methods. Games were used to reinforce the concepts and keep kids interested. So I saw how effective play can be (and on the flipside how hard it is to teach bored disinterested kids.) With my own toddler, I have also seen how effective play is with him as well. I teach him things when we're playing and he doesn't even know he's learning new words etc etc because it's all through play.

Was wondering if some of you who have kids going to daycare, preschool, pre-K, KG or elementary school in Taiwan and can comment on the pedagogical approaches you're witnessing through what your kids or friends kids may be going through. Or perhaps some of you who are teaching in Taiwan or involved in education there have insights on how Taiwanese early/middle childhood education is similar or differs from US educational practices today or US educational practices in the old days (e.g. 70s)

I know people probably have strong opinions about Taiwanese education once kids are in middle and high school and are cramming for exams. So I just want to say I'm not asking about that (that's a whole other debate). I'm more curious about the similarities and differences in early childhood prior to school entry or in the first few years of school. Some would say these set the foundation for everything that follows. And early childhood practices in Taiwan may or may not be similar to late childhood practices in Taiwan.

I just ordered a book called The Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing And What We Can Learn From Japanese And Chinese Education
Here are some sample quotes from the book. Apparently this book does a comparison of US, Chinese Taiwanese and Japanese early childhood educational practices and argues that the general stereotypes that we have of Asian education do not apply at the early childhood educational level and that Asian systems are unstereotypically unstructured at the early childhood level and that this may account for some of the Asian educational success that follows in late childhood. I'm still waiting to get the book, but in the meantime, wanted to see if anyone had thoughts on this or experiences to share.

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Re: US vs Taiwanese early childhood education

Postby GuyInTaiwan » 25 Apr 2012, 10:11

There are more than two systems in the world. Setting things up as a dichotomy between Taiwanese (Asian) and Western (American) is not particularly helpful, I think. In addition to comparing those two countries' approaches, I would also look at the Finns, for instance. In all the latest fuss over how wonderful schools in Shanghai or South Korea are, people completely miss that the Finns are right up there too. Furthermore, the Finns haven't cherry-picked their smartest kids from their most affluent city (as the Chinese have with Shanghai) and they don't grind their kids into the ground (as in South Korea). Furthermore, once we account for socio-economics in the American system, we actually see that the middle and upper classes are really not nearly as bad as everyone makes them out to be. If, on the other hand, you were to come to the school I teach at in rural Taidong, you'd be appalled at the educational outcomes. There's no way in good conscience that I could ever send my kids to the school I teach at.
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Re: US vs Taiwanese early childhood education

Postby Teddoman » 26 Apr 2012, 21:36

Upper class families will pretty much be ok no matter what. They're not under the same stresses as working class families and families in poverty. So it's probably true that educational research in the US at least is mostly in lower income communities. Which in a way makes sense because public education is often the only option for middle and lower income families, and if the American dream of equality is at all theoretically possible, it requires a belief that we all start out with equal opportunities.

You're teaching in an actual local school as an English teacher? I didn't realize local schools had English teachers on staff. I'm guessing it must be high school as I can't imagine they'd devote such resources to the lower grades.

Yeah, I guess it's a bit silly to hold up Shanghai kids specifically as a shining example, as the affluence there really biases their results.

Most of the fuss about differences in national achievement I think looks at older kids, e.g. high school or college graduating seniors. But what's interesting about studies like The Learning Gap is that Asian countries apparently have early education systems more similar to Europe. And my impression is the Scandinavian countries have very progressive early education and family leave policies. For example, there's paid maternity leave and paid paternity leave in one of the Scandinavian countries (can't remember which one). So I think some people are making the argument that more supportive early childhood and more free play in early education somehow sets kids up for better long term achievement, even if they enter a pressure cooking testing environment like in Asian middle and high schools.
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Re: US vs Taiwanese early childhood education

Postby finley » 26 Apr 2012, 21:44

There are some good videos about the Finnish system available from, um, the usual places. I had a look after GiT mentioned it in another thread.
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Re: US vs Taiwanese early childhood education

Postby asiababy » 26 Apr 2012, 22:36

Apparently this book does a comparison of US, Chinese Taiwanese and Japanese early childhood educational practices and argues that the general stereotypes that we have of Asian education do not apply at the early childhood educational level and that Asian systems are unstereotypically unstructured at the early childhood level and that this may account for some of the Asian educational success that follows in late childhood. I'm still waiting to get the book, but in the meantime, wanted to see if anyone had thoughts on this or experiences to share.


One of my Early Childhood Education essays was a comparison of the NZ, Taiwanese, and Japanese early childhood systems and practices. I was surprised to discover how unstructured Japanese Early Childhood Education programs are. I also have two children who have gone through Taiwan public kindergarten, and, after being in the Cram School Kindergarten system for many years, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality, goals, and structure of the program. Last year, my daughter went to NZ public kindergarten for two months, and whilst it was really good, I actually preferred a few things that happen in Taiwan kindergarten.

My observations of Taiwan public school kindergarten:
-Emphasis on getting a rhythm to your day, hygiene habits, and socialising (eating together, reading together, brushing your teeth after meals), and then being free between those time markers
-Promotion of literacy through music, story time, making own books, role-playing, teacher guidance during free play
-Contrary to common belief, not much large group work and quite a bit of physical play (the MOE recommendation is at least one hour a day, preferably outdoors)
-Focus on development of small motor skills through art, not writing (both kindergartens we attended taught children to write their names in the last month of kindergarten, and neither had phonics books. Both school's teachers advised me not to bother with preparing for Chinese class the Summer before Grade One, which surprised me as I thought teachers were concerned about preparedness. It's not the teachers, it's the parents.)
-Classroom divided into thematic areas
-One school we attended took on a thematic approach to learning, changing every month. My daughters' school has a real focus on student-centered learning and follows students' ideas, and students work together on many projects such as producing their own plays and recording them and making their own big story books to share with visiting schools
-Quite a bit of parent involvement, with parents and grandparents coming in to share experiences

NZ free kindergarten:
-Whole program based on goals and aims of http://www.educate.ece.govt.nz/learning/curriculumAndLearning/TeWhariki.aspxTe Whariki
-Emphasis on individuality, to the point where children no longer snack together, but are free to graze through to 11am, then have a one-hour break before lunch
-Children free to roam from indoor to outdoor, and to change activities whenever they wish
-A bit chaotic for my liking, as (at the school we attended) there was no need to clean up between activities, but kids did a group clean up before lunch
-Quite a bit of parent involvement, with parents and grandparents coming in to share experiences
-Teachers and parents work with children to scaffold their learning individually throughout the day
-Lots of cool, messy play like making mud pies and colored goop
-No reading and writing education, but NZ kids go to primary school at age 5, and start it there

That's all I can think of for now and not sure if it's quite what you're after. I'm sure to think of other things later on.
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Re: US vs Taiwanese early childhood education

Postby Teddoman » 27 Apr 2012, 00:01

Wow, some great observations asiababy.

Any chance you still have that paper? I would love a copy. I can pm you my email if you're willing to share it.

Your observations bring a bunch of thoughts/questions to mind:
- The youngest kids I ever taught were first graders, my Hess didn't have a KG program so I don't have any personal experience with KG programs in TW. Is "cram school KG" in Taiwan essentially private KG (all day)? Or is it just after school prep in the evenings, during regular cram school hours (same as older kids)?
- Is there more focus on content prep in the private English KGs? Is it like Hess cram school at the elementary level with desks and lessons followed by reinforcement games? It doesn't sound like it is basically a relaxed public KG where it's just a regular KG only the teachers all speak English.
- Assuming you're in Taipei, do you sense that your kids' public KG is representative of public KGs in Taiwan? Were they following a national approach? Or are curriculums set by the individual schools. I wonder if what you described is a recent trend or if public KG has always been this way in Taiwan. Some of what you described sounded downright progressive (plays and storybooks, for example). I suspect people growing up in 1950s or 1970s Taiwan did not use such innovations.
- Were your public KG teachers educated in early childhood education, perhaps at a teaching college in Taiwan like Shi-Da (where they might actually be studying education by reading American textbooks)? Are teaching jobs at public KG highly sought after the way teaching jobs at elementary schools and above are highly sought after?
- I guess phonics and the zhuyin fuhao system is part of the grade one curriculum, so there is no need to teach it before that. It is much simpler for Mandarin native speakers to convert verbal sounds to the zhuyin system (which is effectively their form of an alphabet, in a way) than it is for English native speakers to convert verbal sounds to spelled English words, due to so many pronunciation idiosyncracies in English. So perhaps the earlier focus on phonics in English arises from the longer amount of time it takes to learn how to link pronunciation, phonics and spelling in English.
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Re: US vs Taiwanese early childhood education

Postby GuyInTaiwan » 27 Apr 2012, 09:51

Teddoman wrote:You're teaching in an actual local school as an English teacher? I didn't realize local schools had English teachers on staff. I'm guessing it must be high school as I can't imagine they'd devote such resources to the lower grades.


Yes, I am a member of staff. I have a desk and my own classroom. I'm in the FETIT (Foreign English Teachers in Taiwan) programme through the MOE (Ministry of Education) in my county, though I am employed directly by the county. In my county, there are nine of us this year (a couple are leaving, but I'm not sure if they will be replaced). There are others in other counties, and some schools hire directly or use a different recruiter/run their own programmes.

Actually, the majority of teachers in this programme work at the elementary school level. My main school is a junior high school, and my secondary school is an elementary school. The person in my position before me worked here, plus at two elementary schools. As far as I know, only one of the other eight teachers here works (part time) at a junior high school. Not sure about other counties, but they're probably mostly elementary schools.
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Re: US vs Taiwanese early childhood education

Postby 914 » 27 Apr 2012, 10:26

Great topic, Teddoman. Thought I'd also post some observations, but it might not be what you're looking for?

My two toddlers are in an English-language, American-based curriculum preschool in Taipei, so I cannot comment on local vs North American preschool. One is in full time, one is in part time. However, it is still in Taipei, and there are still Taiwanese co-teachers in every class, the office staff are Taiwanese, they serve Taiwanese hot lunch, and many of the students themselves are not English speakers but their parents want them to have the international experience. That said, here are my observations, keep in mind we've only been at this school for half a year.

I do like the routine that asiababy mentioned. Every morning, the kids go to school and do the same things like putting on inside shoes, putting backpacks away; they go to the bathroom together; eat together, and they know not to muck around because all their friends have gone back to get ready for nap and they're left alone with a teacher in the cafeteria; nap together. They all have their own seat at the table, each spot is marked with their names for circle time. The teachers do a lot of talking to the kids when they do something wrong, not yelling or shaming. There is also a lot of cuddling and hugging from the teachers. As we speak English at home, the older kid has Chinese lessons after nap time and is picking up so much Chinese, it's really fun to hear. I also like the communication books where each day the teacher will let me know whether Bobby was respectful, napped, or had lunch, etc. I'm not sure if NA preschools do that?

I was the best parent before becoming one myself. It wasn't until I sent the older one to preschool at 2.9 that I realized what a difference it made for him to have some "peer pressure" and structure in his daily life. We sent the younger one at 1.5 and though it's only part-time and mostly play-based, they have routines as well and kids that age pick it up so quickly, I sometimes wonder if I should have sent my older one to preschool at 1.5 as well!
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Re: US vs Taiwanese early childhood education

Postby Teddoman » 28 Apr 2012, 10:07

Yes, the communication books has always been a strength of the Taiwanese (and other Asian countries?) system. I wish the US had more of that tradition. The daycare we send our son to is pretty weak on that. They tell us what was on the lunch menu, and that's it. You don't even find out how much of it was eaten. And you don't find out anything else about their day. I have to make a point of almost dragging details out of the teachers when I go to pick him up, otherwise I would get nothing out of them. It's a bit ridiculous, how is one supposed to talk to a two year about their day if the teacher doesn't tell you?

914 wrote:I was the best parent before becoming one myself.

LOL, I have friends who have reduced parenting to a handful of very simple concepts, based on a couple of articles they read on the Internet. I just roll my eyes in my head, but on the other hand, I was equally ignorant before I became a dad too, so I don't expect anything more of them.

Yes, the peer pressure factor really makes a great difference. We were worried he'd have trouble adjusting to daycare, because it was hard for him to sit still and eat at a toddler table, but we didn't realize that one of the reasons it's tough at home is the peer pressure factor is missing. At daycare, it's a lot easier. We'll probably start #2 at daycare a little earlier too.
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Re: US vs Taiwanese early childhood education

Postby asiababy » 28 Apr 2012, 12:49

Yes, the communication books has always been a strength of the Taiwanese (and other Asian countries?) system. I wish the US had more of that tradition. The daycare we send our son to is pretty weak on that. They tell us what was on the lunch menu, and that's it. You don't even find out how much of it was eaten. And you don't find out anything else about their day. I have to make a point of almost dragging details out of the teachers when I go to pick him up, otherwise I would get nothing out of them. It's a bit ridiculous, how is one supposed to talk to a two year about their day if the teacher doesn't tell you?


Public kindergartens in Taiwan and NZ don't have this daily communication book. In Taiwan, it's a short weekly report. In NZ, if there is something to report, they put a star by the child's name on the sign-up sheet and you find the teacher before you leave.


Any chance you still have that paper? I would love a copy. I can pm you my email if you're willing to share it.


I'll have to dig it out, I've been through two computers since I wrote it.

Your observations bring a bunch of thoughts/questions to mind:
- The youngest kids I ever taught were first graders, my Hess didn't have a KG program so I don't have any personal experience with KG programs in TW. Is "cram school KG" in Taiwan essentially private KG (all day)? Or is it just after school prep in the evenings, during regular cram school hours (same as older kids)?

Kindergartens attached to cram schools are essentially private kindergartens, either half-day or full-day.

- Is there more focus on content prep in the private English KGs? Is it like Hess cram school at the elementary level with desks and lessons followed by reinforcement games? It doesn't sound like it is basically a relaxed public KG where it's just a regular KG only the teachers all speak English.

My perception is, due to management's lack of confidence in teachers they hire, they prepare all the lessons for the teachers to follow, so at least the "curriculum" is followed.

- Assuming you're in Taipei, do you sense that your kids' public KG is representative of public KGs in Taiwan? Were they following a national approach? Or are curriculums set by the individual schools. I wonder if what you described is a recent trend or if public KG has always been this way in Taiwan. Some of what you described sounded downright progressive (plays and storybooks, for example). I suspect people growing up in 1950s or 1970s Taiwan did not use such innovations.

From what I could gather when I asked my daughter's teacher yesterday, it does come from national guidance, although whether or not teachers are capable or willing to implement it is reliant on the teachers as individuals. I have several friends with kids in kindergartens around Taipei at least, and they have had similar experiences.


- Were your public KG teachers educated in early childhood education, perhaps at a teaching college in Taiwan like Shi-Da (where they might actually be studying education by reading American textbooks)? Are teaching jobs at public KG highly sought after the way teaching jobs at elementary schools and above are highly sought after?

Again according to the teacher I asked yesterday, teachers go to teachers college and then have to pass the area exams for the places they want to work at. She wasn't sure about relative competitiveness to get in.

- I guess phonics and the zhuyin fuhao system is part of the grade one curriculum, so there is no need to teach it before that. It is much simpler for Mandarin native speakers to convert verbal sounds to the zhuyin system (which is effectively their form of an alphabet, in a way) than it is for English native speakers to convert verbal sounds to spelled English words, due to so many pronunciation idiosyncracies in English. So perhaps the earlier focus on phonics in English arises from the longer amount of time it takes to learn how to link pronunciation, phonics and spelling in English.

From what I understand (from attending trainings etc at school), students are not actually expected to lose reliance on zhyin fuhao until Grade 3, so they have three years to get comfortable with it if the guidelines are followed. Right now, there is a buzz word amongst parents: Competitiveness. "I want my kids to be competitive. I don't want them to behind their classmates with their attitude toward competitiveness." As a director at our school recently shared with us, it is not in any guideline, any goal for elementary education, that elementary students should become competitive. It's being pushed by parents.
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