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Social Enterprise Spotlight: Teach For Taiwan

Teach for Taiwan is an organization that aims to help children in rural communities receive a fair and equitable education. Like Teach for America, and other Teach for All programs, Teach for Taiwan places talented and passionate university graduates in underprivileged schools for 2 years. I talked to Teach for Taiwan’s CEO Paula Lin, to learn more about about their organization, and also learn about the pressing demand for quality teachers in rural Taiwan.

Aaron: Taiwan on average has very high levels of education among developed nations. So where is the demand for “Teach for Taiwan”?

Paula: Schools that have the greatest needs for teachers are in rural areas, but because of the low pay, and the remoteness of many of the schools, there is little incentive to teach there. So we want to satisfy the demand in remote areas for elementary school teachers.

Also, Taiwan’s birthrate is falling, and the ministry of education is worried about this, because that means schools will begin to disappear as well. Since the ministry of education is unsure which schools will close, and the demand for new teachers is unstable, they are reluctant to take on more teachers full-time, and instead prefer to take on substitute teachers. Additionally, teachers in Taiwan have high pensions, so there is less incentive to take on full-time teachers (substitute teachers do not qualify for pensions).

Right now Taiwan has a lot of substitute teachers, and there pay is calculated hourly. Their hourly wage is only 260NTD (about 8.60 USD, 9.25 CAD), and cannot teach more than 20 hour per week.

Where are your schools located?

We have 8 schools in total, with a teacher at each school. The schools are all located in rural areas, and are quite far away from the city centre. In Tainan, we chose four schools to be located in Yanshui, Liuying. These villages are quite different from the Tainan city area. It doesn’t seem like Tainan would be lacking in resources, but rural Tainan’s situation is not relative because of the distance the schools are from the city centre. These areas are broken villages, people are moving out, and local industry is not prospering.

What issues do children and families face in Taiwan’s rural countryside?

There are a lot of problems coming from the families themselves. Many families in the countryside are multi-cultural, because farmers and other rural workers marry women from South-East Asia. When their children go to school, they face problems of integration, and this can cause friction with some families.

Students in rural areas might also come from disadvantaged families; their parents might be engaged in low-paying jobs in the labour force. Their parents don’t have much time to take care of their children’s educational needs, nor do they have time to help them with their homework, or any other activities. It’s quite a different situation from families in Taipei.

Is Teach for Taiwan’s model similar to other Teach for All programs?

We are run as an NGO, and our model is similar to Teach for America. It’s a 2-year program, and we pay some of the teacher’s salary. The problems Teach for Taiwan and Teach for America face are a little bit different because America doesn’t have the substitute teacher problem that Taiwan has. In Taiwan, we have a lot of teachers who can’t get a decent job, with many of them trying to become a full-time job. Meanwhile, schools in remote area find it hard to attract talented teachers for the jobs available.

Was there a lot of interest from students and applications in the first year?

We got 187 applications in the first year, and we only have 8 spots. Applicants went through a number of stages, an application assessment, an online interview, a group interview.

What were you looking for when you selected your 8 teachers?

The most important thing is their motivation to teach. Do they only want to work for us while waiting for another job? If so, that will cause problems for our schools. They also need high perseverance and positivity, because living in those rural areas is not easy.

Did you expect to have so many applicants?

We did info sessions in universities across Taiwan. We also had a short documentary about rural teachers in Taiwan, and their stories touched a lot of people. Also, our founder contributed a lot in the first year. We’ve received a lot of good publicity from magazines as well. We were quite surprised by the amount of students that came to our info sessions, with a lot of feedback from students who wanted to apply in the future.

After this year, are there any plans to scale up to more schools in the future?

Next year, we’ll have at least 8 more schools. We’re still deciding how much we want to scale up. We’re trying to find new schools around the area where we are already located.

What has been the feedback from parents, teachers, and other stakeholders in the community?

Right now we only have one pilot teacher, and he’s completed one semester. His feedback from parents and the school principal has been very good. He’s been able to encourage students to do their homework. The principal of the school never imagined that the teacher, who is a graduate from National Taiwan University, could be so humble. Our teacher observed other teacher’s classes, and asking for a lot of advice. He really wanted to integrate himself into the community.

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