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 (
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 (
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.
"With competition being so strong, schools are often in a position where they have to comply with the parents' wishes. If the parents ask for English classes, the schools will find a way of providing them, or the parents will go elsewhere," Lin said.
Lin said that due to parental demands, another trend was that Web cameras were being installed in classrooms. By keying in a pin number, parents have become "Big Brothers" of the kindergarten world, keeping teachers on a short leash.
"This puts an enormous amount of pressure on teachers, some of whom feel like they're being judged and spied on. It can also cause misunderstandings, since parents can only see images and aren't able to hear what's going on," she said.
Gillian Chen (
According to kindergarten teacher Katy Shih (
"Parents are too busy these days to teach their children, some don't even know how. They treat kindergartens like a babysitting facility," she said.
With such a huge kindergarten market, Lin urged parents to choose schools carefully and think about what was best for their child's development, rather than be swayed by some school's slick marketing and sales pitches.
Lin said that parents should obtain details about a school, such as whether it is licensed or not, from local education authorities.