To reduce Taiwan’s reliance on the Chinese economy, seek international partners and strengthen exchanges with Southeast Asian nations, the government introduced the New Southbound Policy. The cultivation of Southeast Asian language talent is a key foundation of that strategy.
According to Ministry of Education data for the academic year 2018-2019, about 90,000 elementary and junior-high school students in Taiwan are second-generation immigrants from Southeast Asia. These students should be the talent pool that the policy relies on, but in reality, many of them fall behind in school.
Due to economic difficulties, many first-generation immigrants from Southeast Asia send their preschool-age children to their home countries and bring them back to Taiwan when they reach school age.
These children might encounter serious difficulties in Taiwan due to their poor Chinese-language skills.
To help transnational students adapt to life in Taiwan, the ministry launched a Chinese-language remedial teaching program in 2004, but three problems with the policy remain.
First, it is poorly promoted. Although the number of applications for the program is gradually increasing, the number of transnational students who are not enrolled remains high.
When the ministry held a meeting on the issue in 2018, many local governments did not even send representatives, saying that there was no need for such a program in their counties and districts.
Some schools are also not aware that the program exists, and if they do, there is no contact for their applications at the local governments. Schools have to contact the ministry’s K-12 Education Administration by themselves, and a teacher will not be assigned until their application is approved by the administration.
The ministry should promote the program more actively and cooperate with local governments to establish decentralized application mechanisms, so that potential talent among transnational students is not wasted due to the long wait.
Second, qualified teachers are lacking. During the time-consuming application process, schools often invite immigrant volunteers or older second-generation students to act as temporary tutors. Despite their enthusiasm, these tutors are not professional teachers and might have to make a greater effort to achieve lesser results.
The ministry should cooperate with universities to include students from Chinese-language teaching departments in the program. This would allow students to gain practical experience, and they could potentially be sent to Southeast Asian countries in the future.
The ministry could also recruit Chinese-language teachers with teaching experience in Southeast Asia. Since they have an understanding of cultural similarities and differences between Taiwan and Southeast Asian nations, they could also provide cultural assistance to second-generation immigrant students.
Third, the most crucial problem is integration. Schools usually find transnational students by searching new student data at the beginning of a semester, and only then prepare to file an application for the program. Thus schools might miss the best time for instruction.
The ministry, the National Immigration Agency and the local household registration offices should push for data integration. They should track the schooling of immigrant children, and take the initiative to inform schools of second-generation immigrants returning to Taiwan.
Louis Yin is a legislative assistant.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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