Tue, Sep 10, 2019 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: School helped change attitude toward immigrants

By Phoenix Hsu and Chen Chih-chung  /  CNA

A Vietnamese-language course teacher teaches students during a class at an elementary school in Taoyuan on Aug. 26.

Photo: CNA

When Huang Mu-yin (黃木姻) arrived in Taoyuan seven years ago to serve as principal of Dong An Elementary School, she found that low enrolment was a problem because some parents were reluctant to send their children to the school because of its “exotic” feature.

The school is in a neighborhood outside the Taoyuan metropolitan area, where rent is relatively low, thus attracting urban commuters, Aborigines and immigrants to settle here.

“Our school has students from more than 20 ethnic groups. Among the 750 students, nearly 130 are new immigrants and another 130 are Aboriginal children,” Huang said.

Many parents were worried that enrolling their children in a school with so many immigrants’ children would expose them to an academically inferior environment.

Huang, however, thought it was a chance for the school to become unique compared with other urban campuses.

“What a shame it would be if students are ignorant about the school’s multicultural environment,” Huang said. “It is our job to let students learn cultural diversity through lessons and activities.”

Instead of dismissing the mother tongues and cultures of the students and their immigrant parents, most of whom were mothers from Vietnam or Indonesia, Dong An Elementary School in 2012 started a multicultural education program and encouraged students to learn Vietnamese and Indonesian.

Over the past few years, Huang has successfully turned Dong An into a popular school where not only children of immigrant parents are fond of learning their mother’s language and culture, mainstream Taiwanese students are also keen to learn to speak the languages of new immigrants.

“A good education broadens students’ horizons and we have achieved that at Dong An by promoting cultural awareness on campus,” Huang said.

Little did Huang know that the school was pioneering what later became nationwide education policy.

In late June, the Ministry of Education approved new curriculum guidelines, which took effect this month, giving elementary-school students the option to study one of seven Southeast Asian languages, aside from Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), Hakka and Aboriginal languages.

The languages are: Indonesian (Bahasa), Cambodian, Thai, Burmese, Filipino, Vietnamese and Malay.

It is the first time they have been written into the curriculum of the 12-year compulsory education systems, the ministry said.

One of the reasons this new policy has been adopted is because of the changing demographics in Taiwan, where there were 187,839 foreign spouses married to Taiwanese as of July 31, excluding those from China, Hong Kong and Macau, according to government data.

Among such foreign spouses, 107,440 (19 percent) were from Vietnam, 30,246 (5.5 percent) from Indonesia, 9,893 (1.8 percent) from the Philippines, 9,026 (1.6 percent) from Thailand and 4,332 from Cambodia (0.79 percent), the data showed.

Dong An and Huang have not only served the school well, they have also inadvertently helped Taiwan recognize the value of immigrants and cultural diversity.

The school is now a role model for other schools nationwide, and Huang and Dong An’s teachers have helped develop textbooks for teaching the languages.

When Huang started to promote multicultural education at Dong An seven years ago, she had to start from scratch because the teachers were not familiar with the concept.

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