Monday, May 16, 2011

Buxiban Blues

So although I really like my job I'm going to expand on my problems with the buxiban system as I see it through the job I am in.

My company is a pretty typical one. One of the top three chains in Taiwan with schools in other countries as well. The working experience depends a lot which branch you are in. There are a few schools directly controlled by head office which I imagine would be pretty nice to work for as everyone at head office has their heads screwed on pretty well.

The vast majority of schools as I understand it are franchisee schools run by whoever had enough capital and fancied getting into the business. They may or may not know a thing about teaching. Almost all of them are driven by profit of course, these aren't philanthropic exercises after all. The problem is some of them will pursue profit in an intelligent and effective way and others will just pursue it blindly making short term idiotic decisions being a general control freak.

Some of the short term thinking I will ellaborate on. Apparenty there is this Asian cultural concept called 'face' which is vaguely defined. It is good to give it, bad to lose it and generally a strange concept to our western ways of thinking. Put as simply as I can it means people in Asian generally feel embarrassed or humiliated in the public sphere easier and to do anything which might cause a person to look bad is a terrible thing to do. Apparently one can also go very far by giving 'face' ie making people seem important or gifted etc. Basically people are very concerned about their public image so to speak. Now I can't say I have ever seen this 'face' thing in action and a lot of the white people I know will use it to explain almost any quirky cultural differences they run into simply as a matter of 'face' as if it were the driving force behind anything a Taiwanese person does. Anyway...

Anything that causes a parent to lose face is terrible as it means a loss of money. Any parent embarrassed about something would surely withdraw his child from the school meaning less money and then proceed to tarnish the name of the school causing the school to lose face entering into what I like to call a 'face losing spiral.' No, that's a lie I made that part up.

Anyway I was told soon after I got here that the children were never to get below 70% on an oral test and also that I should do what I can to make sure everybody passes. If someone didn't pass clearly I am somehow implicated as a shitty teacher because everyone knows 10-12 year olds are focussed information absorbing machines so if one fails it's clearly because I wasn't teaching them properly.

The tests at the best of times are simply a matter of logic so in that I believe anyone capable of detecting a pattern would be able to get a passing score just by inserting vocab into the empty spots and copy and pasting the example sentences for every question. More just a test of picture recognition and the ability to copy. Anyway I am sidetracked...

The point is that the lazy kids who refuse to pay attention in class or do their homework as well as the genuinely slow kids continue to be passed up through the levels. The books are structured in a way that builds up from the most basic grammar and sentences into more complex sentences so that you generally need to understand what has gone before in order to properly understand the new material. As opposed to just regurgiating sentence patterns.

So anyway a level in this course lasts 3 months roughly. Meaning that if a student were to stay back it wouldn't be such a drastic deal as they would only be three months behind. It's not like staying back a year at home where you are short one year of your life. Studying for one year longer in high school, seperated from all your friends and suddenly becoming the joke older kid who couldn't pass this year first time around. It's just 3 months and it isn't like normal school in that it delays your progress in the real world.

So the dumb or lazy kids rarely if ever fail, meaning that their parents never think that there is a problem. Even if it is suggested that a child isn't fit to progress into the next level a parent will disagree and the school will listen to the wallet ahem.. parent. So what happens is that the class will have some lazy students who don't try because they know they will make it to the next level anyway but don't really have the background English to properly comprehend what is going on anyway. Many of them just get bored and end up goofing off to cover for the fact that they are extrememly behind the ball. Or there will be students who are extremely slow. In order to go at the right pace that they understand everything the rest of the class get antsy and bored.

I once had a kid who was in a level 05 class. Classes only last for 3 months so he was at the school maybe 1 year and three months. He was terribly behaved if you tried to keep him on task and include him he would intentionally fuck up to cover for his not understanding. If you ignored him he started making a commotion and distracting all of the other kids and ruining the lesson. Almost all lessons ended with me yelling at him in the corner or sending him outside. Finally after much pleading from me to get this kid out of my classroom we sent him back to the very first level. 'How are you?' 'What is it?' '1-10' etc and he wasn't the worst kid in the class by about 2 students. The point was he wasn't even middle of the range in the first most basic level yet this kid had sat 4 exams and passed 4 levels to get where he was and didn't understand anything. Once we got him back to that original level his behaviour was infinitely improved. He was still lazy and a distraction but he was able to participate and wasn't going to act like an arsehole to cover his stupidity.

So anyway because everyone passes the lazy kids don't have the stick pushing them to try a little harder in class, why bother? But then they become arseholes who can't follow the lesson and try to cover for their ignorance. Classroom  management becomes impossible with a really spread level of students.

Which leads to my next problem of discipline. No matter how poorly behaved you can't kick a child out of class as they are bringing in revenue. You can't even remove one from the classroom as their parents paid money for them to be there so no parent wants to hear my child wasn't in the classroom.

What's more writing letters home to the parents detailing what an arse your child was in class today or ticking the needs improvement box more than on one occassion is a big no no. We can't give them any more homework as punishment nor can we make them sit on the side of the class writing lines as their parents paid for them to get speaking practice. As all of this causes the parents to lose 'face' when we say your child was badly behaved today.

So kids are really hard to control as there are few effective discipline measures we can use. They know there aren't any real consequences for their behaviour besides getting yelled at. So on occassion this will mean that the good kids barely get any practice time because the bad students are being constantly asked to stop talking, sit down ans pay attention. The whole class suffers because the school doesn't want you to punish a small minority. Anyway end rant..

So as not to end on a low note here is a pic of happy buxiban times


  1. Hey Scott!'
    How've you been doing after your first year?
    I've been here mover 9 years, and, I hate every single moment.
    But, I've got a ball and a chain, called Taiwanese wife; so, why are YOU still here?

    Contact me:

  2. Hey George, haha I actually largely enjoy my life here. It was a bit of a learning curve but I'm pretty well adjusted in my 3rd year. My classroom control techniques have improved as well as the general level of my classes (less bad eggs). Sorry about the late reply but I rarely update this blog.