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Corporate Citizen, Planet Technology
A Classroom of Hope for Disadvantaged Students

One up-and-coming SME has invested NT$50 million to found Taiwan's first educational trust, in the hope of helping students lagging in their studies to get back on track.

Photos: Kuo-Tai Liu

At 7:40 a.m. the bell rings at Chung Cheng Elementary School in the Taipei suburb of Sindian, signaling the beginning of the school day, and Miss Ruan, a former middle school teacher who retired two years ago, turns and smiles at the four pupils in her class-a class that is different from those in nearby rooms.

"OK, repeat after me: 'xiao xiong,'" she intones.

Although two of Miss Ruan's students are already third graders, they still lack a firm grasp of the basic Mandarin phonetic system used in Taiwan. As the kids recite, Miss Ruan pats a couple of them on the head by way of encouragement; they are entirely focused on her and the study cards in their hands. There is no indication whatsoever that these same kids were problem students last semester who had fallen way behind in their schoolwork and become headaches for their teachers.

These students are now able to take advantage of remedial tutoring with volunteer specialists each morning to overcome their temporary educational setbacks, courtesy of Planet Technology Corp.'s 'Care and Acceptance' study guidance program for disadvantaged students.

Included on Forbes Asia magazine's 2006 list of top small and medium-sized enterprises, 'Asia's 200 Best Under a Billion,' Planet has since its founding earned its chops as a producer of fiber optic and wireless networking equipment, recently branching out into network security products. With a two-pronged focus on R&D and high added-value products under its own brand name, the company has become a little powerhouse with operating revenue of NT$1.2 billion. With its products on shelves throughout the world, one thing Planet hasn't forgotten is its commitment to Taiwan.

Taiwan's First Educational Trust 

In 2003, Planet had just listed on the GreTai Securities Market and raised NT$50 million. Planet chairman Chen Ching-kang and his wife, company vice president Hsu Hua-ling, began to see media reports that the children of many immigrant parents were lagging behind in school. Upset by the reports, they began planning how they might use the money to help these children. They decided to establish an educational trust aimed at offering assistance to underachieving first, second and third graders. It was the first educational trust ever established in Taiwan.

The project is targeting first, second and third graders, because 'we hope to help those kids who are behind catch up as soon as possible and get back on track within the educational system,' Chen explains. The younger the child, the greater the benefit of remedial education. To ensure progress among those students receiving tutoring so they may return to an ordinary classroom setting, Planet tests all the kids when they enter the program and then again at the end of a semester, so a detailed evaluation may be made as to whether the child has achieved the expected results.

Initially, the program had been designed to help the children of mixed marriages between Taiwanese and immigrant parents -referred to in the local media as 'new Taiwanese children.' Yet when implementing the program, they discovered that the school was sending them even more children who had fallen behind in class not because of mixed cultural or linguistic backgrounds, but as a result of domestic violence, single-parent homes, and other social ills. With these students in mind, they brought aboard specialist psychologists, consultants and social workers to provide help in accordance with the severity of the circumstances.

More than a few Chung Cheng Middle School teachers have indicated that while the remedial instruction does help kids improve their schoolwork, even more important is the 'psychological aspect,' letting these kids feel that someone cares about them and making for a more natural re-integration onto an ordinary scholastic track. Hsu believes the program's employment of small class sizes has been the key to its effectiveness. Many schools have set up their own remedial education programs, but their success has mostly been less than stellar, as large class sizes limit a teacher's ability to spot the specific problems of individual students.

Public Service Needs SOPs Tooional Trust

After three years of operation during which 1,177 kids have been helped, Chen and Hsu are plotting how to seed and replicate the program throughout Taiwan. To that end, the two have formulated their 'Standard Operating Procedures for Primary School Remedial Classes' modeled on modern corporate SOPs and retaining numerous experts with years of experience in remedial education to establish procedures and evaluation forms.

'We've even designed the forms to record the minutes of board meetings,' Hsu notes, adding that only through a comprehensive set of procedural and quantitative evaluation indices can various schools shorten the learning curve.

Since its founding in 1993, Planet has never been in the red. Now, it is embodying a methodical approach in its operations and gradually establishing a comprehensive system.

Just as their technology products go into mass production after in-house R&D and testing, Planet has the same in mind for their education program. They have already expanded the program to five other primary schools in the greater Taipei area. In addition, Hsu declares, 'We really hope to bring this system to other areas of Taiwan. We're very willing to hold seminars, whatever it takes.' She fully expects that even more people will begin to recognize the importance of childhood education and will be able to refer to Planet's experience to avoid the many pitfalls that can hamper results.

Once concerned about the limited number of people they could help, their minds were put greatly at ease after seeing an interview with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and his wife Melinda. Asked whether they could share some of their insights after 20 years working to help improve public education in the United States, Melinda Gates replied, 'You come to talk to me in 20 years, and we'll still be tackling this problem.'

'Whatever we're able to do, that's what we'll do,' Hsu Hua-ling says softly. 'Only when we're doing something do our hearts feel at peace.' She is a firm believer that many kids lagging in their studies are only really lacking someone who cares.

Now, each morning when the first-period bell rings, there will be a few students getting that extra little push, with Planet's help. And as a result, society has a few more seedlings better prepared to grow into hearty saplings.

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy

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