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Solutions to Taiwan's Education Woes

Home Schooling: Learning Custom-made for Kids


A growing number of Taiwanese parents are choosing to teach their children on their own at home, designing learning environments specifically suited for each kid's unique needs.



Home Schooling: Learning Custom-made for Kids

By Sherry Lee
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 395 )

The curriculum of 12-year-old Huang Yu-lin differs a lot from that of her peers.

Yu-lin begins her school day with devotions and Bible study. Her mother, a homemaker, is her English teacher, with Studio Classroom, a televised English learning program, serving as the major tool of instruction. Yu-lin likes English, and comes into contact with the language one to three hours a day. She also has ample time for reading literature and often devours entire novels of several hundred pages in a week. Classic children's books such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Little Women can be found on her bookshelf.

Yu-lin and her parents discuss and develop her lesson plan together. Yu-lin says if she chooses her lessons herself she is perfectly happy to work on her tasks, but if someone else picks them, she will procrastinate.

Now in grade six, Yu-lin has been home-schooled since kindergarten age, because that's what her father Huang Hsia-cheng wanted.

Huang, a business consultant, did not want his child to enter the formal education system. Huang argues that compared with previous generations, today's children have such a wide variety of personalities that a unified state education system cannot do them justice.

Twenty years ago the world changed only slowly, so that a decade seemed just like a single day, Huang observes. But today in this age of massive changes and rapid diversification, teachers are not able to teach students individually, given that in the present school environment, classes of 35 students are the norm.

Always pondering what kind of talent society will need in the future, Huang came to the conclusion that rather than waiting for education to change, he would place his hopes on home schooling.

Together with a handful of friends Huang founded the Mujen Chinese Christian Home Educators Association. Without much organized promotion the group mushroomed to 700 member families, with some 300 participating in the association's activities on a regular basis. For a father or mother to make the momentous decision to quit a well-paying job in order to home-school his or her child, the initial motivation is usually a painful awareness that the regular school system is not helping. But parents come to love their new roles, because home schooling allows them to tailor education to their children's needs.

Instead of spending a lot of money to send their kids abroad or to private schools, they roll up their sleeves and figure out what their children need by being at their side.

Be it in Taiwan or elsewhere in the world, home educators usually move at a quick pace and are progressive thinkers. How do they view the needs of the children of the 21st century? Why is tailor-made education such a pressing need at this time? Their thoughts on the formal education system are also a valuable lesson for all those who are looking for alternatives. Below, Huang Hsia-cheng shares his experience as the father of a home-schooled child:

I chose home schooling mainly because I noticed the decline of the family and the shortcomings of our school education, which is not able to produce self-motivated children with good character.

The decline of the family has already become a structural problem in Taiwan. When adults leave the family sphere and enter society to work, the vast majority become mere financial providers, but there is no parent-child or family relationship to speak of, and even less proper upbringing, education and moral guidance.

Over these past eight years of home schooling, I have adjusted my role – my daughter has become my junior schoolmate, and I am her senior schoolmate. In the past I used to give orders, set rules, and admonish her to make her do what I wanted. But after correcting my own behavior, I have become more like a coach and companion.

These are no longer authoritarian times. Our children need educators that are coaches and companions. If educators and students don't have a good relationship and aren't on the same wavelength, the quality of teaching can't be good.

Presently, schools only develop the intellect, but don't cultivate character. A person's learning ability is not just a question of a good brain, but also of concentration, diligence and self-restraint. In our distracting, economically oriented era, teaching tools are getting better and better, but the strange thing is that they're becoming less and less effective. The reason is that when kids enter school, they're not into learning.

Making Children the Main Subject

The advantage of home schooling is that it allows learning based on the child's needs, instead of following the teacher's or the school's learning model. The parents also need to let go of their ego and make the child, not the teacher, the subject of learning.

A learning person's orientation is to help another person to overcome difficulties, to get ahead. But a teaching person's orientation is that you need to cooperate with me; if I want you to do something ten times, you have to do it; it's not up to you to decide how you do it.

If my daughter gets frustrated while studying, I will take a break or even use half an hour to talk about how she feels about life. If we take the idea of whole-person education seriously, then the seven major areas that school teaches are just one leg of whole-person education. If you put 99 percent of your efforts into this single pillar of intellectual education without relevant support from other areas such as emotions or physical abilities, the whole thing will collapse.

One class is just a very small section of a person's life. What I care about is the bigger stages of her life. She is twelve now, so I want to give her room to try things out and correct herself. She was taking piano lessons, but a while ago she suddenly felt pressured, because her teacher often wanted her to take part in competitions. I discussed the pros and cons with her, and she decided by herself to quit piano classes for the time being. But interestingly, since the pressure to compete has gone, she lifts up the keyboard cover every day, and really has fun playing.

In school, lessons are planned according to the textbooks, which largely contain intellectual and rational education. But we organize all sorts of camps with mixed-age groups. Like in real society the children learn to relate to people of different ages. At the same time they also learn to serve others and respect them.

If children grow up under such conditions and in such an environment, they will develop an inherent motivation to learn.

Inherent motivation means an imagination about life. And if they have imagination they will develop in that direction. They will have a goal and a driving force. In the past my daughter's life was probably what we the parents imagined for her, but now she has her own imaginings.

I hope that society will be able to learn to appreciate and accept diversity. Teamwork in a company means integrating diversity. Only when we learn to accept non-uniformity will the diversity of humankind be able to generate more creativity and development.

Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz

Chinese Version: 給孩子量身訂做的教育