Elementary School in Taiwan
I teach in a public elementary school in Taitung 台東, Taiwan. I also have two daughters enrolled in my school. For these two reasons, I know a fair bit about elementary schools around the island.
To clarify: I was hired by the Taitung County Government 臺東縣政府 as a Foreign English Teacher 英語外籍教師 in 2006. I worked for two years in Tung Hai Junior High School 東海國中, also in Taitung, and later transferred to Tung Hai Elementary School 東海國小, which is just up the street. My work at Tung Hai Elementary is full time, and I have no other duties at any other school.
What I say about my school may not be true for all elementary schools in Taiwan, but can be taken as an example of what most elementary schools in Taiwan are like.
Our school day starts at 7:50, and ends at 4 each day, Monday to Friday. Kids in grades 1 and 2 have half days every day except Tuesday. Kids in grades 3 and 4 have half days on Wednesday and Friday. Kids in grades 5 and 6 only get half days on Wednesday.
Kids in our school study Math, Chinese, Social Studies, Health, PE, Taiwanese, Science, Art, and the very young kids get a Dance class, or at least they did last semester. Kids in grades 3 to 6 study English, which is where I come into the picture. I have nothing to do with grades 1 and 2, since they don't study English.
Many kids in our school hate Math passionately, Chinese less so. Math and Chinese are the subjects that most classes tend to focus on, given that homeroom teachers carry the responsibility for these subjects. Our school has three subject teachers for English, two Taiwanese English teachers and myself. The Taiwanese English teachers have each class twice a week, but teach only two grades apiece, while I have each class once a week, but teach all of the grades.
Aside from the above, there is the usual slew of activities. There are clubs on Wednesday afternoon - one of which is my English club - and also the field trips once a semester, the Sports Day once a year, and a graduation ceremony for the grade 6 kids in June. The big vacations are Chinese New Year and Summer Vacation, with a sprinkling of other holidays between these two major events.
A lot of people complain about the homework in Taiwan, but I haven't found it to be much worse than homework in the States. Grades 5 and 6 tend to have a lot more homework, but even this is nothing compared to what they have to deal with in junior high school. My older daughter, who's in grade 5, tends to have 2-3 pieces of homework each day, usually Math, Chinese, and another subject. When people here complain about homework (as with tests), they are usually lumping the elementary classes in with the cram school classes.
There is also a lot of fuss over tests in Taiwan, but I haven't seen much to get worried over. I have helped write the English tests for my school, and also watched the students take tests in the other subjects. If they have studied enough, they do OK. It is the kids that get lazy and/or discouraged that have to watch out. Tests are administered three times a semester, but I wouldn't regard them as a crushing burden.
I must add that there is a quite a bit of difference between Taitung, where I live, and Taipei. The testing environment in Taipei carries with it a lot more stress, mostly because people in big cities tend to compare and compete in everything. Kids in Taitung derive less of their self-worth from tests, and I can't see that as a bad thing.
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