Wednesday, 31 August 2011

School Hunting

We've had a busy last few days in our search for a school. When we came out to Taiwan last October we visited a few different types of schools, trying to understand the pros and cons of each. One of our main reasons for coming to Taiwan is so that Conrad can experience another culture and learn another language, so it was through this prism that we viewed each school that we visited.

Other important criteria were that the school should be small and should be situated in an area that was relatively pollution-free. Although Taipei's air quality has improved a lot over the last 20 years, there are still many areas that are quite heavily polluted due to the huge numbers of two-stroke engine scooters that are driven. Some schools we discounted immediately because they were situated right next to busy main roads.

We visited an international school first, the Taipei European School. As we suspected, despite this being a very nice school, the language of instruction was English (or French, or German, depending on which section the children attend) and the children only had two hours of Chinese tuition a week, so the school didn't suit our purposes. We also tried a private Taiwanese school with a bilingual programme, but again we felt there was too much English spoken there (Taiwanese parents who can afford it send their children to these schools so that they can learn/maintain English language skills).

There are a few schools in Taipei that cater to the needs of children with Mandarin as a second language. The one we went to see was Xinsheng Elementary School. Like many Taiwanese schools, this school is very large. Most Elementary schools in Taipei have 1000+ enrolments. It's also situated on a main road (in an expensive area!). So, although this school could provide the Mandarin support Conrad needs, we carried on looking.

We finally found a very small school halfway up a mountain in Beitou, Taipei's hot springs district. This school was well-suited to our needs, being very small and set in a beautiful environment. They were a little evasive on the question of Mandarin support but generally it seemed the best choice. Unfortunately, although we had a verbal agreement that Conrad could attend this school, on a later visit they told my husband they no longer had any places. So when we arrived in Taipei last Monday we faced another school hunt.

It's very hard to find an appropriate school for your child when you're in a foreign city, don't know anyone with children and don't speak the language! However, we finally hit upon Gongguan Elementary School. The Director at this school was very happy to have Conrad and said they could help Conrad with Mandarin. They also wanted him to start on the first day of term so that he didn't miss out on that time when children form their school friendships. So, in short, he started school on Tuesday!

Here's a photo of the school:

It looks quite large but there are only 20 to a class, and there are lots of school offices (those are the ones with the airconditioning units outside). Roughly 200 children are enrolled.

This is the view looking out of the back:

Conrad in a classroom waiting for me to finish speaking with the Director on Monday:

Despite this being only the third day Conrad has been to school, we're already getting a taste of Taiwanese culture. The parents are exhorted to bring their children to school by 7.50 a.m. at the latest, but classes don't actually start then. In fact, I don't know when they start. There's nothing happening by the time I leave at 8 o'clock. I think we may be having a longer lie-in!

Also, when I asked what Conrad needs for school I was told just pen and paper. It turns out he also needs a bowl and chopsticks for lunchtime, and a toothbrush, toothpaste and mug for post-lunch teeth-brushing. Just today he told me he also needs a pillow for his desk for the post-lunch nap (poor thing has been trying to sleep on a hard wooden desk lid!). Luckily I thought of the water bottle by myself. I think he may need a cloth too, for cleaning his desk and the classroom windows. This is not a special punishment, by the way, they all have to do it.

Of course it's early days and it's all quite difficult, so I must be honest and say that Conrad isn't the happiest child at the moment. He' a good complainer, so sometimes it's a little hard to tell when he's genuinely unhappy, but I think he's finding this very challenging. I'm trying to be understanding and encouraging but be clear to him that he must go and that things will get easier.

We found a shop selling huge lemonade slush puppies the other day, so at least there are some nice things to take his mind off it all.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny

I find your blogs great!.
As you, I want to take my two daughters to Taipei soon to learn Mandarin as a second language.

I was wondering myself how the girls would do in a total Mandarin Immersion.And reading your blogs, now I have a better picture.
At this point I'm interested in Xinsheng Elementary School, wonder if you can tell me how much this school charge, and if you think that too many kids in the classroom may not work in the learning process.

Jenny J. said...

Hi Francisca

I'm so glad you're enjoying my blog.

I have heard many good things about Xinsheng, and in fact there are many Taiwanese people who would love to have the special privilege that foreigners have to send their children there (it has to take children who are enrolled in local schools but have poor Chinese). Do be aware that the required process for enrolling in Xinsheng is to enrol your children in a city school, then transfer them to Xinsheng.

As far as I'm aware, there are no additional fees to pay, just the normal ones for school lunches, books etc.

My understanding of my son's experience of learning Chinese is that he has learned mostly from his friends. So I think the most important thing is to ensure that your child is included as a member of the class from day 1 (i.e., as far as possible to do the same as the other children, sit with them etc.). My reservations about large classes stem from the idea that these can be more isolating than small ones, but I don't have any experience to back up this worry.

For an interesting discussion on schools in Taiwan, search under 'local schools' in the Parenting forum in Forumosa.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny,

I was so happy to find your blog.
We are thinking to move back to Taiwan, where my husband from however, our children do not speak Chinese anymore and it has been a big issue for us to find a right school for them.
It's too expensive for us to pay the tuition for International school and I was thinking that private bilingual school is the way to go...
You introduced me this school, Gongguan elementary school!
It his beautiful school and sounds like the staffs are helpful! We are contacting this school.

Thank you for your blog!!!

Jenny Green said...

I'm glad you found some useful information. Good luck with contacting Gongguan. I'm sure they'll be very helpful.
You might also want to look at a friend's blog for more information about bringing children up in Taiwan:

Anonymous said...

HI Jenny

I came across your blog yesterday about Gongguan school and have some questions. A little background about me. I'm planning to take my kids to live in Taiwan next year - ages 5 and 8 (next year). I am originally from Taiwan, came to the US when I was 4. I can speak conversational Mandarin but can't read and write. I would like my kids to learn Mandarin- not necessarily be an expert at reading and writing but at least be conversational too. That is my main reason for going to Taiwan- for them to learn Mandarin. I figured they can come back to the US schools 1-3 years later and will be ok.

How did Gongguan school work out for Conrad? Was it difficult? My 5 year old probably won't have any problems but I'm worried about my 8 year old. By next year, she will be attending 3rd grade and I'm thinking of dropping her a grade when in Taiwan. I've recently taught her bo po mo fo and she began to put them together to "read". Of course, we just started and I plan to keep at it for a year before we go to Taiwan in 2016.

Please let me know your obstacles. Any suggestions and opinions. I would love to know your progress, any regrets, any success... and give me some hope. I'm petrified of going but I think this is a very good opportunity but at the same time don't want to do anything detrimental to my children's future. thank you.


Jenny Green said...

Hi Ginny
Sorry for the delay in replying. I don't check back here as often as I should. I'm Petrichor on Forumosa, and I've answered some of your questions there. Gong Guan was a mixed experience for us. I'll message you privately on Forumosa with more details as what I have to say isn't appropriate for a public blog.

Ginny L said...

Thank you. I had a feeling that was you on Forumosa! I look forward to your reply.