Mon, Sep 08, 2008 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Small, remote schools struggle to stay open

DISAPPEARING:Since 1983, six of Penghu’s elementary schools have closed as the birth rate has dropped and adults move to Taiwan proper to look for employment

By Elizabeth Hsu  /  CNA, WITH STAFF WRITER

Tsung Yeh had 156 students before it was merged with a nearby school in June to make way for an art center.

Tsung Yeh’s students were instructed to transfer to other schools in Madou Township.

“I only want to graduate from Tsung Yeh together with my classmates,” said Cheng Ya-chin (鄭雅心), a sixth grader from Tsung Yeh who represented other students in filing a petition with the MOE to keep the school open.

She expressed reluctance to be separated from classmates she had studied with for five years and still hoped against all odds that the petition would be successful and she and her friends could return to Tsung Yeh for their final year before graduating.

Still, some small schools manage to survive.

A proposal 15 years ago to close schools in Liji (利吉) and Fuyuan (富源) villages in the mountains of Beinan Township (卑南), Taitung County, because each had had fewer than 15 students for years, was rejected.

The plan was withdrawn after talks between administrators and residents, who saw the need to keep the school open for students who cannot afford to travel to distant schools in bigger towns or cities, Taitung County Education Department Director Huang Chi-teng (黃子騰) said.

The school in Liji has only one new student this year, a first grader who lives with her grandfather because her parents work in the city.

The situation is similar in Fuyuan, which had a quiet first day last Monday to welcome its only new student, a first grader.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said in June that remote schools could not be shut without careful consideration because they are not just schools, but also centers for community activities.

Some education experts, however, say small classes cannot offer a proper educational environment.

Former National Chi Nan University president Lee Chia-tung (李家同) said “one-on-one” instruction was bad because it did not offer students enough “cultural stimulus” or a competitive environment.

“Just imagine the students with no companions to play with in school,” Lee said.

However, he added: “Whether or not to close [small schools] depends on the individual case.”

Huang said educators were conflicted about whether to close shrinking schools. If they are closed, some students are forced to walk for hours to a school miles away from their home.

During the last academic year, 162 of 2,651 elementary schools and 15 of 740 junior high schools had fewer than 50 students each.

The low birth rate has also caused a drop in enrollment at universities and the question of whether to shut down small schools is expected to grow more pronounced in coming years.

Department of Elementary Education Director Yang Chang-yu (楊昌裕) said that the law allowed local governments to close a school.

“The MOE cannot interfere, but can only offer principles and express concerns,” he said.

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