May 30, 2006

The Local Backpackers

Just might be the best headline I've seen on any Taiwan informational website--the credit goes to the fine folks at The linked article is a concise rundown on who goes to what school when.

I remembered that post today as the wife and I drove down DaDuen Rd. and saw a 7-8 year-old girl wobbling alone across the four-lane road where it intersects with Hsiang Shang Rd. She was having a hard slog through the cross-walk and looked as if she had tractor tires tied to her ankles. As we passed there could be no question as to what was causing this difficulty, and the same specific difficulty to the swarm of students that was being de-schooled up the street. That single-digit-kid was carrying about 15 kilos of books on her back. Like an ant.

I remember before one Spring Break in high school the administrators announced that the insides of the school's lockers were to be painted while we were gone, so everything was to be cleaned out and all books were to be taken home. No homework, of course, this was a holiday. As it turns out, the school was to be evaluated by some higher power on the bureaucratic food chain starting the Monday after the break, and it was hoped that the eyes would look kindly upon a school whose entire student population had to lug their entire collection of worthless textbooks home for imaginary mounds of homework.

That happens every day in Taiwan. Students don't have lockers. This is why you see kids pulling the rolling carry-on bags that were up until recently the sole property of air crew. So these kids have their six or eight text books needed for class, plus, in Maggie's day, they had a couple extra books of practice tests. Nothing is more important in Taiwanese schools than that bastion of achievment "The Test." It's The Test which is used to keep students submissive. It's as powerful as "The Permanent Record." The practice test books, which they may or may not still use, are illegal. According to the education wonks, students are supposed to be learning not practicing for tests. Whatever. When my wife was a student, there was a practice test session during the day, but if an inspector was spotted pretending to do his job, an alarm was raised and all the students in the classroom immediately stowed their test books underneath the platform the teacher stood on. Obviously, the students put in these situations are learning more about life in Taiwan than how to pass a silly test. The rule of law carries no weight whatsoever. If you can get away with it, it's not breaking the law. And I think no body is going to catch you unless you forget to pay them off.

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