Seventeen years have passed since the first batch of supporting teaching staff for Taiwan’s native languages passed the Ministry of Education’s certification exam and started working in elementary and junior-high schools, but their treatment is deteriorating every year.
Wages are calculated by actual teaching hours, so summer and winter breaks and typhoon days do not count. They are not paid for the time spent preparing classes, designing curriculum plans or providing guidance and training for students competing in speech, recitation or picture-book contests, nor are they paid for participating in field or graduation trips.
Even worse, their labor and health insurance is canceled during summer and winter breaks, and their contracts must be renewed annually without any guarantees of being rehired.
Some have enrolled in graduate schools and obtained master’s degrees, but they are still “supporting teaching staff.”
The government’s push for native-language classes extends from elementary to graduate school, but in practice, very few teachers can speak and use local languages. Some schools still only use unqualified instructors. This is unconscionable and degrades local-language training.
When preserving local culture, language is the top priority. How can someone love local Taiwanese culture without a proper grasp of local languages? Ancestral spirits would not understand what protection to provide if they cannot understand the language of the prayers.
The General Guidelines for the Curriculum Guidelines of the 12-Year Basic Education, which was implemented on Aug. 1, puts Taiwanese languages and native languages of new immigrants in the same category of courses mandated for elementary schools.
Only one weekly session is allocated in elementary schools to native languages and students still have to learn another language. How could they learn their native language well?
One session each for the whole class should be allotted to Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) and Hakka every week.
There are fewer students with immigrant parents, so the session for their mother tongues could be allocated to the morning self-study period, which would not impact required courses, but this is up to the school.
Hopefully, the ministry will mandate such an arrangement for all schools so that local languages can be sustained and a small foundation for Taiwanese culture be preserved. If such an arrangement were established, high schools could follow suit, which would make lecturing proceed more smoothly.
The public should be aware of the severe shortage of Hoklo teachers in universities’ Taiwanese language and literature departments, where the majority of faculty come from Chinese language and literature departments.
This raises the question of their ability to teach Hoklo, although many people choose not to highlight this problem. What Hoklo proficiency will students have after taking Hoklo classes taught in Mandarin? As long as the problem exists, Hoklo training will never improve.
For more than a decade, university Taiwanese languages and literature departments have produced many Hoklo experts, but why can they not teach at university level?
Are the people in charge of Hoklo education too small-minded to promote young talent, or do they want to keep the resources all to themselves?
The situation demands that Hoklo education leaders be open-minded and promote talent to pass on Taiwanese culture and allow the education of Taiwanese awareness to continue.
Ng Siu-lin is a director of the Northern Taiwan Society and former chairman of the Taiwan Mother Tongue Teachers Association.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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