Home schooling highlights shortfalls in Taiwan’s education system

Home schooling highlights shortfalls in Taiwan’s education system
Home-schoolers enjoy their group activity provided by U Theatre.

On a sunny day in May, while most students were in school, 50 children and their parents were drumming and practicing martial arts with the renowned Taiwanese performance group U Theatre in Taipei. These children are home-schooled.

Two youngsters just back from several months in Cambodia are among them. Travel has been an important part of the education of this girl in the fourth grade and her brother in the second.

Their mother and teacher, Michelle Kao, is behind their unusual educational experience. Before her first child was born, Kao already made up her mind to teach her children herself, with a curriculum that includes travel. Since her daughter was 5, the family has made extended stays in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand, spending at least a month in each place.

The children learn about the history, geography, society, language and currency of the country, matching learning directly with their experience, Kao said. They were even tasked with budgeting expenditure during their travels.

The siblings have also attended elementary schools in Taiwan, at their own request. “But after completing the trial period they decided they liked home schooling better,” Kao said.

“I am not saying school education is bad. It’s just that I wanted to give my children the opportunity to learn things differently, and to do and see things I missed out on,” she said. “I saw in them potential that can never be developed in Taiwan’s education system.”

While planning her children’s instruction, Kao felt like she was in school herself. She recalled her elementary school days, when teachers labeled her “gentle and quiet,” but her mind was full of questions about the importance of grades. But tests are what school is all about in Taiwan.

Dorota Wernik, an educator from Poland, had learned about Taiwan’s exam-driven, spoon-feeding education before settling down here in 2000. “There were too many examinations, but no inspiration for independent thinking,” she said.

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