A major row is emerging between women's groups and the bushiban circle because of differences over a recent government decision allowing elementary schools in Taiwan to offer low-cost after-school programs.
With the nation's cram schools planning to protest outside the Ministry of Education this afternoon, some women groups say they will stage a counter demonstration in support of the ministry's policy.
"We support the government's policy to help disadvantaged groups and low-income families, but this should be done through subsidies, rather than trying to compete with us for business," said Liang Hsien-chung (梁憲忠), chairman of the National Cram Education Association.
According to Liang, the government's new measures will threaten 300,000 people in the bushiban business with unemployment.
Women's groups, however, voiced support for the new policy.
"The problem with bushiban is that they charge too much, and not every family can afford them. Also, although this policy would indeed have an impact on their business, again there are not many bushiban that are legal. A lot of them are illegally run," said Lee Yuan-chen (李元貞), a Tamkang University professor in charge of the women groups' action this afternoon.
Many working parents send their children to bushiban after school since classes finish before parents come home from work. The bushiban offers a place for children to stay and complete their homework before parents can pick them up. Some cram schools offer classes, such as English and dancing, but parents usually need to pay a substantial sum for these services.
Now the government has come up with a similar program at a much lower cost, thanks to continued efforts from the Cabinet's Commission for the Promotion of Women's Rights.
In the draft of the Standard for the Elementary School Practicing After-School Program and the Qualification of the Participating Staff (國民小學辦理兒童課後照顧服務及人員資格標準), released by the Ministry of Education last week and a cross-ministerial body, the government set out instructions on costs, with parents paying only about NT$1,200 to NT$2,000 a month, compared to the usual rate of NT$6,000 to NT$12,000 a month charged by bushiban.
The policy has angered bushiban workers, who accuse the government of stealing their jobs and claim the new scheme is a ploy to help the DPP win the presidential election.
"The government should not sacrifice the legal cram-school business to disguise the failures of educational reform," Liang said.
The association is urging the government to give NT$3,000 to economically disadvantaged children to pay toward bushiban classes instead of allowing schools to hold low-cost after-school programs. Cram schools would absorb the rest of the costs, the association said.
But Lee said she did not agree with the bushiban argument.
"Only with affordable and well-run after-school programs can mothers cease to worry over their children and concentrate on their work. This would help more women move into the employment market and boost our economy," Lee said.
In fact, some schools have been running after-class programs before the regulations were announced. The Pen Wan-ru Foundation, which has been working with elementary schools on low charge after-school programs, welcomed the government's new policy.
"We appreciate the fact that the government has taken career women's issues into consideration," said Wang Hwei-chu (王慧珠), the assistant executive officer of the foundation.