Situated in a Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) village in Miaoli County, only five percent of Jhunan Elementary School’s students have parents who are both ethnically Hakka, yet for the past three years the school has won first place in the Hakka singing contest for the lower grade elementary school division of the National Hakka Art and Culture Competition for Elementary and Junior High School Students, effectively belittling many schools in the county where a majority of students are Hakka.
The school’s principal Liao Chin-wen says that the school, in order to protect the rights of minority Hakka students, applied for a NT$100,000 grant from the Hakka Affairs Council to help promote diversified cultural education. In its curriculum for native languages, the school teaches Hoklo and Hakka, and all students are included in the program starting from the second grade, keeping the Hakka language from disappearing in this predominately Hoklo community and giving Hoklo students a chance to better understand Hakka culture.
Learning correct pronunciation is the most difficult thing, Liao says, adding that teachers spend two to three months on pronunciation alone in order to give students a firm foundation. Then a dozen Hakka songs are selected as teaching materials, allowing students to learn through singing songs and get used to the tones of Hakka in song form.
The school then selects students with better pronunciation to take part in the contest. When they first gave it a shot three years ago, the students won first place in the Hakka singing contest for the lower grade elementary school division, and last year and this year they won first place again, making it three years in a row. Students from the school also won second place in the oratory contest for the entire nation’s middle grade elementary school division.
Among the students who participated in the contest this year, Liao says there were 15 second graders and four fourth graders, with only one student whose parents are both Hakka and seven with one Hakka parent.
The students have an avid willingness to learn. Teachers patiently take a gradual approach when teaching students correct pronunciation, and the school has set up a Hakka education platform on its Web site, which has links to the council and other Hakka educational sites, providing students with diverse learning tools.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)