Taiwan to ban kindergarten English lessons

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 February, 2004, 12:00am

Schools will be penalised with fines if they fail to comply with new ministry policies over 'mother tongue and identity'

Taiwan's Ministry of Education plans to ban English-medium kindergartens and revoke the licences of cram schools that teach English to pre-school children.

The announcement follows a ministry ruling that second-language education at kindergarten level is 'inappropriate'.

The issue is yet to be regulated under the Pre-school Education Law.

Wu Tsai-shun, director of the ministry's Department of Elementary Education, said the government's view was that kindergarten education should not provide full-time bilingual (Chinese and English) education and separate English lessons.

'English education should be integrated into the curriculum and not override the learning of other subjects,' he said.

'The kindergarten curriculum should focus on health, games, music, general knowledge, [mother tongue] language, and identity. A second language is just not a priority in the education of kindergarten children.'

He emphasised that language lessons should be taught through the medium of story telling, songs, reading and speech, which aimed to 'use direct and correct methods to teach students the mother language'.

Mr Wu said most English-language kindergartens were registered as 'cram schools', but were recruiting students of kindergarten age.

Under the new ministry policy, he said, schools would be penalised with fines between NT$50,000 and $250,000 (HK$11,705 and $58,525) if they failed to immediately remove English-language teaching from their curriculum for children under six years old. The ministry has also said that foreign teachers are barred from teaching English in kindergartens since none of them were qualified as pre-school teachers.

'It is feasible that qualified pre-school teachers can integrate English into their teaching, but English should not stand alone as an individual subject with a fixed number of sessions in the curriculum,' Mr Wu said.

While some education experts argue that learning two languages simultaneously confuse kindergarten children, rough estimates show that more than 50 per cent of Taiwan's kindergartens provide some form of English instruction.

In choosing a kindergarten, many parents in Taiwan, like those in Hong Kong, look for schools that use English as the language of instruction or provide several hours of English education. They see such schools as giving young children an early competitive edge.

Responding to a demand from parents, Minister of Education Huang Jong-tsun announced last week that English education would begin in Primary Three, instead of Five. An 4,000 additional English teachers would be provided for the extended programme.

A ministry spokesman said problematic schools would be given a six-month grace period before the new plan was enforced.

Foreigners seeking Taiwanese citizenship will soon have to pass a proficiency test in Mandarin if a draft revision to the Nationality Law is passed.

The new provision requires foreigners to pass examinations demonstrating they have mastered an elementary level of Mandarin, the rationale being that they can integrate into Taiwan's predominantly Mandarin Chinese-speaking environment quicker and easier.