Bilingual English and Mandarin preschools have become popular in Asia. In order to cope with the emergence of globalisation and fierce competition, the education system is arranged so that children learn language skills at an earlier age. This trend is in response to social values - ‘winning at the starting line’- which has been a mainstream philosophy in education in East Asia. Parents are worried that their children are incapable of adapting to the quickly globalising world, so they enroll their children in schools where they can get ahead.
For me, coming from East Asia, and having an experience of being a preschool teacher before, this article is an observation story about my experience of teaching in Taiwan. In the past, the culture was relatively conservative in Taiwan; preschool was a prerequisite for primary school and children sat in classrooms learning how to read, write, and do maths instead of playing which was considered a "waste of time". As time goes on, the education system has changed and is not what it used to be but there are some shadows left of the old system.
Learning English is considered the most competitive skill because it is the most extensive and widespread language in the world; this is very advantageous for native English speakers who can have more opportunities to teach abroad. There are some concerns however that have emerged from some studies that have shown that children who learn foreign languages too early would be negatively influenced in their native language development. However, whether learning foreign languages affects mother tongue ability depends on the mentality and methods of teaching. Children in preschool learn best when content taught replicates real-life and can be integrated into daily life, and focuses on cultivating language learning. When a child learns vocabulary that has nothing to do with his or her life experience, excessive emphasis on outcomes is only counterproductive.
Under the current teaching criteria, there are three main methods of teaching which are widely used in Taiwan; Steiner Waldorf education, Thematic approach, and Montessori education. Steiner Waldorf education advocated to communicate with nature and values inner development. Thematic approach is a way of teaching and learning whereby many areas of the curriculum. Montessori education is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play, and highly trained teachers offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process.
In my opinion, the preschool I have stayed in feels like a fusion of the Thematic approach and Montessori education. I designed the activities under a theme and let children make something by themselves. For example, if speaking of 'lanterns' (which is under the theme of the 'festival'), I would initiate the discussion with children about their knowledge of festivals and prepare simple lanterns for them to make. It is clear to see that children are like blank sheets of paper; their behaviour is a mirror of what they see and what they have been taught across many cultures.
Experiencing different education systems can help you reflect on how you were taught in your home country and how your education shaped you; if you have the chance, come teach in Asia and see what you think!
Feature Image Credits: tingyaoh from Pixabay