Super Hans: I just think you're setting up a false dichotomy. There are kids from screwed up families at both ends of the spectrum here. There are kids who grow up to be screwed up adults at both ends of the spectrum here. There are well-adjusted kids at both ends of the spectrum here. The problems that face the two ends of the spectrum tend to be a different set of problems. I'm not sure that being exposed to poor people is in and of itself a good thing. This is a myth, a romanticisation. Being exposed to poor people who come from abusive families who then bring all sorts of problems into the classroom isn't a good thing. I certainly wouldn't want my kids to hang out with such kids either at school or outside of school as it might rub off on them. Frankly, if I had kids, I'd be keeping them away from probably 2/3 of the students I teach.
One of the issues I often have with students is that I am simply not sure to what extent some of my students really even have learning disabilities or real mental issues, and to what extent, their problems are the result of growing up in extremely impoverished environments where their mental and emotional development has been extremely stunted. I'm really not sure that, on average, they do grow up to be better off. Certainly if we look at really straightforward metrics such as infant mortality, life expectancy, etc., I am almost certain that Taipei kids would be better off.
As for the schools themselves, I really beg to differ. Sure, in a sense, they're not responsible for providing financial stability to the families themselves. However, I do believe it is the responsibility of teachers (and other government employees, such as policemen) to offer a good example to students. This would be true anywhere in the world, but it's especially important in an environment where such people might be the only responsible adults they ever meet until they're old enough to leave. Many of my colleagues routinely turn up for class five to ten minutes late (I see them walk past my classroom). Many of my colleagues (and the local police) turn a blind eye to the copious numbers of students here (and even at elementary school) who ride scooters, and do so without helmets. These two things are just the tip of the iceberg with these iron ricebowl fuckwits who should know better. They do a tremendous disservice to these kids by not offering them good examples of how to be successful in life (by turning up on time, etc.). The trouble is that placements at schools are decided by exams, and the teachers who score best get to choose their schools. In some cases, they move somewhere like Taidong (maybe they come from here originally, maybe they married someone here, maybe they like the countryside, maybe they even want to help poor kids). In many cases though, they end up somewhere like this as a last resort because the "better" schools have already been chosen by people who out-scored them on exams. So, to some extent, it's self-reinforcing. I actually have one colleague who is nothing short of excellent. She grew up in Taidong and she actually moved from a better school to this one specifically so she could help poor kids. She's probably a real exception though. I doubt that rich people in Taipei would be happy to have the slack teachers teaching their kids.
I'm not at all enamoured with the schools in the north, but I'm also not enamoured with the schools here either. The difference to some extent though is that if you lived in the north and did nothing extra (and resisted the school putting pressure on you), your kid would still get a decent enough education (because he would have better, more responsible teachers, and he also wouldn't have to contend with a whole bunch of clowns for classmates constantly screwing around) and could have a childhood. Down here, doing nothing would entail a sub-par education in the main (shockingly, even some of the government officials my wife and I have encounted here have been only semi-literate). The irony is that the kids I teach who are good at English and other subjects (but would be average compared to kids in the north) almost all go to buxibans anyway. I can think of only one kid who doesn't, but he comes from a quite unique family anyway and because of his other interests (singing, in the main), I can tell he does get all sorts of positive input from his family. From next semester or the year after (we're going to implement it next semester, but I think it won't happen everywhere until the following year), the government is going to start streaming kids based upon competency exams. This will probably be flawed in some way, but never the less, the bottom 35% of students in Taiwan will end up in some sort of remedial classes. My colleague told me that in Taidong, something like 70-80% of students will end up in the bottom 35% of Taiwan. There's clearly a problem here.
I certainly won't be sending my kids to the schools here when I eventually have them. My wife and I will be home schooling our own kids. I'm not sure if I would send them to schools in the north either (probably not), but there might be some more options. Also, for what it's worth, I think some pressure on kids is a good thing. I think it's too narrowly focussed and not sensibly applied here though. In Australia, private schools typically expect students to take part in a range of extra-curricula activities. I think it makes people more rounded. There are very few expectations placed upon the students at my school.
And you coming in to scold us all like some kind of sour-puss kindie assistant who favors olive cardigans and lemon drinks without sugar. -- Muzha Man
One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words "Socialism" and "Communism" draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, "Nature Cure" quack, pacifist, and feminist in England. -- George Orwell