The King Car Education Foundation and Rural Education

I haven’t been posting very often because I’ve been preparing for a series of conferences at which I have to present. But the Taipei Times has recently featured several articles that highlight problems I’ve been talking about in rural education and the misguided efforts of the King Car Education Foundation.

King Car, if you remember, is the private foundation funding the placement of foreign English teachers in rural schools. They have also built an English theme park similar to parks that exist in Korea. The foreign teachers they are placing in these operations have been recruited through an American Christian missionary organization. At least some of these teachers would not qualify for a work permit to teach English. The concern I consistently expressed is that a private foundation is now making policy decisions concerning what aspects of rural education should receive funding.

Several articles in the Taipei Times have highlighted problems with education funding, particularly rural education, and point at serious policy directions in which money should be being spent. For example, large numbers of families in Taiwan need assistance with child care so that they can continue work. Apparently, there are underused government programs available to assist people in this situation. But more significant is the huge shortage of textbooks in rural Taiwan.

The Ministry of Education has announced that rural schools are suffering from a huge shortage of textbooks. In fact, the situation is so severe that they are asking citizens to donate books. The Taipei Times article states that 40,000 books are needed by some 219 junior high schools and 61,022 students in remote regions, including Nantou County, as well as Hualien and Taitung counties. I presume most of these students are aboriginal Taiwanese.

So while King Car is providing a Disneyland English experience, there are children in rural areas of Taiwan who can not get the basic education guaranteed them by the ROC Constitution. They are deprived of their constitutional rights because of a textbook shortage which has been going on for years. King Car will however make sure that some rural students have the experience of a not necessarily qualified or competent white foreign teacher.

Sure, King Car is a private group and they can spend their money any way they want. Should they be allowed to spend it in the ways they are spending it? No, they should not. When the MOE is forced to turn to Third World solutions for rural education – like asking for donated textbooks to service aboriginal children’s Constitutional rights – they should not. If the MOE had any courage on this matter, they would tell King Car that while their offer is appreciated, rural Taiwan does not need marginally educated white kids helping with English instruction and instead needs private donors to buy such basic requirements as books for students.

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I remember the Taipei Times article concerning the books.
At that time I felt confused as I am after reading your post.
I am not sure about the regulation in Taiwan.
But is the MOE not supposed to provide text books at least up to High School?
Maybe I mix up with what is done in many countries in Europe: free education and books for kids…I am not sure.
If this policy doesn’t exist in Taiwan, market cost for 40,000 books could be around 15 to 20 million (TWD) but the real cost should be much lower if the MOE handles it directly (bulk purchase…).
Even at the market price, the MOE cannot afford it? (even on several fiscal years?)
Or it’s not its job?
So what is the job of the MOE here? I thought it is supposed, among others, to control the level of the teachers.
But it seems according your post, that is not the case at least for King Car.

I’m bothered by this, as well. My understanding – having no children in school here – is that students and there families pay for textbooks right through elementary school. So while King Car is assuring that every student has a White man or woman to speak English with, some students and their families can’t get textbooks.

Now that I work for the MOE, I’ve been thinking a lot about the tremendous inefficiencies in the Taiwanese bureaucracy. There is no shortage of money, in fact at the end of every budget cycle there is a mad rush to spend money on wasteful projects just so that the stream doesn’t dry up. However, it seems that there is never enough money for important projects.

I see it as a problem of democracy. The budget decisions are made from the top-down with almost zero-input from the people who ultimately use the money – teachers and students. And money slotted for one type of activity cannot be used for another.

Successful bureaucrats are those who are able to make use of these funds – even if that just means wasting them in creative ways. It isn’t that hard to do, actually, but it takes a tremendous amount of time because of the complex accounting practices and constantly shifting priorities. One needs to basically be a full-time money waster to succeed in these institutions. Those who try to challenge the priorities to spend the money where it is actually needed are punished for doing so.

As a state employee I have been socialized into this system and I have to struggle hard not to become blasé about it – constantly reminding myself of the absurdity of the system even as I become complicit in it …

And yes, those who have additional sources of funds are also able to succeed, because they can distribute those funds much more freely and without similar constraints. However, this private money rarely seems to be spent in ways any more responsible than the state.

I don’t think these problems are unique to Taiwan, but perhaps because of my job I’ve become particularly attuned to them.

“As a state employee I have been socialized into this system and I have to struggle hard not to become blasé about it – constantly reminding myself of the absurdity of the system even as I become complicit in it …”

Good for you and all those MOE-ers like you Kerim, but does that help anyone else? Does one not have a choice to be or not to be part of something completely ineffective, in particular if one feels one is complicit in something you call “absurd”? We are talking about Taiwan’s education after all.

I agree with you that these problems are not unique to Taiwan. But in a country (or whatever) where everything is top-down with very few educational grassroots initiatives, does it not matter even more (than in the EU, for example) what you guys at the top are doing and with what conviction you do it?

I apologize for the cynical tone, but my questions are nevertheless meant as sincere points of concern.

Sorry, didn’t intend my previous post to be anonymous.

Johan,

I don’t think I was clear. I am not at the MOE per-se, but as an assistant professor I am essentially working for them. I would hardly call being an assistant professor being “at the top” … My point was precisely that even though I now work for the Taiwanese state, I have absolutely no say in the policies which affect me and my students on a daily basis.

Aah! now you are clear.
But strange you consider you work for the MOE. I rather feel I’m working against them. Maybe you should try this kind of struggle, it might give you more sense of purpose to consider yourself working for students instead of self-centered MIB.
With my apologies for having misread your post, Kerim.

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