Mon, Jan 23, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Kindergartens too commercialized now, teachers say

INTERFERENCE Teachers say that intense competition between schools and more meddling from parents have led to too little emphasis on kids' developmental needs

By Jenny Chou  /  STAFF REPORTER

With kindergartens being increasingly commercialized, children's developmental interests have become neglected, while teachers' professional expertise has taken a back seat to parent's wishes, kindergarten teachers say.

This is due in part to the trend of having fewer children in recent years, which has made parents more attentive to their offspring's education, and more willing to invest time and money into it.

Given that the educational status of the newest generation of parents is higher than ever, a strong emphasis on academic ability even at the kindergarten age is the trend. Parents are looking for schools that have professionally-trained teachers to instruct their children in English, music, art -- anything that can turn their relatively unshaped infants into members of high society.

"One of the things I look for when choosing a kindergarten is the educational and professional qualifications of the teachers there," said a mother surnamed Chen.

With the promise of a big return rate, many kindergartens are more than happy to rise to the challenge, providing specialized classes in a variety of subjects including English, art, dance, motor skills improvement and arithmetic.

According to kindergarten teacher Lin Ching-ching (林青青), fees for private schools can amount to as much as NT$100,000 to NT$200,000 (US$3,115 to US$6,230) every term, with many parents preferring private schools over state-run kindergartens.

The result is that competition is intense. In Taiwan it is not uncommon to see three or four kindergartens on the same street, like products stacked side-by-side on a supermarket shelf.

Lin, however, thinks that the emphasis on "packaging" and "facilities" conflicts with the best educational interests of children.

"With kindergarten education being so commercialized, parents are not choosing schools according to core developmental values such as learning through play, social interaction with peers, and motor and physical development. This has led to a trend where children are more passive, less resilient, and less independent," Lin said.

Former kindergarten teacher Liao Wen-jun (廖文君) said, "While kids may be competent in English or math, a large proportion are rude and lack basic manners. Although they may know a lot, the natural creativity which comes from within isn't allowed to be developed."

With strong competition between kindergartens, Lin said that parents often switched their children to different schools upon hearing that they had better facilities, which she said was not good for a child's sense of stability.

"One parent I know enrolled her child in three different schools before the age of 7," she said.

According to Lin, the emphasis on academics also puts the development of motor skills at risk, especially for children who already suffer from medical conditions such as hyperactivity that could be corrected through physical exercise.

"Many kindergartens nowadays don't provide enough room for physical activity. Some have only a small patio as a playground, or a plastic slide. To compensate for these deficits, some kindergartens have motor-skills classes. Whoever heard of motor-skills classes in the old days? Running around in the playground was enough. What's more, you need to pay extra for these classes in some cases!" she said.

Along with commercialization, teachers' professionalism is being comprised, coming second to parental demands, teachers say.

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