sad state of ‘native-language education’ in Taiwan

Today’s Taipei Times has an interesting article on the state of teaching Taiwan’s “native languages.” (This means Taiwanese (a.k.a. Hokkien, Minnan, etc.), Hakka, and the languages of Taiwan’s tribes, but not Mandarin.) From the look of things, the government has basically botched the situation, despite having thrown twice as much money toward these languages as is being spent on English.

Although some of the problems and expenses are to be expected, given how new this is and how much resistance there has been from conservative forces, I’d say that things are still far from acceptable. A large part of the problem is that the government can’t even decide on a script for these languages: sometimes romanization (various systems), sometimes Chinese characters, sometimes zhuyin. It’s a mess.

No progress in native-language education has been made in schools despite the central government promising to encourage local culture and language education three years ago, native-language teachers said yesterday.

Liu Feng-chi (???), director of the Taiwan Association of Mother Language Teachers and a teacher of Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), said he felt cheated that the government had “not taken in any of our suggestions to improve native-language education in school” over the past three years.

Liu said the Ministry of Education had not put much effort into reform nor native-language education. Classes in schools were not being planned carefully and lack continuity, he said.

“Classes [for native languages] should continue after elementary school so that students can keep learning the languages in junior high,” Liu said.

Association executive director Huang Hsiu-jen (???) said teachers of Hoklo are being “reselected” every year and must undergo a “disrespectful” selection process.

Huang said the selection committee was sometimes composed of teachers who did not speak Hoklo themselves.

“The selection team tends to choose young Hoklo teachers who can sing and dance in class, while older teachers like us end up with no job,” Huang said.

Liu also said that the salary for teachers was based on the number of hours worked in a week and that the hourly wage was a mere NT$320.

Furthermore, native language teachers are called “assistant teachers,” and schools do not provide them with health insurance, Liu added.

The association also expressed concern that many schools were using the time reserved for language classes to teach other subjects, and that many language teachers were required to teach mathematics or science as well.

Meanwhile, Perng Fuh-yuan (???), section chief at the ministry’s Department of Elementary Education, said there are more than 300,000 children learning native languages in the country.

Perng said the selection process applied not only to language teachers but to teachers in general, and that former language teachers were added to the selection committee to provide specialist advice.

“It is hard for students to continue native-language classes in junior high school under all of the exam pressure,” he said. “However, schools have tried to incorporate these languages into extracurricular activities connected to the school, such as Hoklo language clubs.”

The ministry spends NT$400 million (US$11.9 million) annually on native-language courses, while English classes have NT$200 million per year in funding. Elementary school students are required to take at least one period of native-tongue classes per week.

Taiwan’s native tongues include Hoklo, Hakka and a variety of Aboriginal languages.

source: Native-language teachers lash ‘disrespectful’ ministry, Taipei Times, November 18, 2005.

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