It was only later on during a visit to a local school where Ted was to do some English training when he was told more about the cramming culture of the schools in Taiwan.
‘You see, there is much emphasis on doing extremely well in exams and ranking high’, one of the teachers explained to him. ‘When a child does well, it brings fame, so to say, to the family. We have a very collectivist culture. No one is on their own. Everyone is connected to their families. Parents put a lot of pressure on their children to do well and take pride in it when they do so.’
‘I see’, Ted nodded. ‘It is a very different culture to the West where everyone is so individualistic and sometimes even isolated. Parents don’t care as much about what their children do or how they perform.’
The teacher nodded. ‘Yes, it is a very different culture. Here, family is everything. And making a good name for one’s family is essential for everyone.’
Ted shook his head a little. ‘But that means that even relatively young children are put a lot of pressure on by their families, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes, it does’, the teacher smiled. ‘Even kindergarten kids take exams. And for primary, secondary and high school students there is something called cramming schools that they go to after regular school hours. Children in primary school can be expected to stay at school for more than 12 hours. In the cram schools, they just cram in information and try to memorize subject knowledge for their exams. Then they go home and sleep and do it all again. In some schools, the children go to school even on Saturdays.’
‘But they don’t have any time to be children!’ Ted exclaimed.
‘No, they don’t’, the teacher gritted her teeth. ‘This is the criticism that we often hear from the West. That we are shaping the children so that they are very narrow individuals with just specific skills, such as very hard-working and with a scientific way of thinking, but other sides are cut of, like creativity and using one’s imagination.’
Ted nodded. ‘This is all new to me… Hmm… Can the children take it physically? Don’t they get tired?’
The teacher laughed. ‘These kids are used to it. They learn to be very hard-working and efficient from a young age. And they always get a nap time after lunch. They can sleep for 30 minutes before the afternoon sessions. And also we do some physical exercise with them every day and also we have taught them how to do eye massage. There is a big problems with short-sightedness at our schools, because the children spend so many hours sitting on the computer and reading, and not looking far ahead, so many needed glasses. Now we are trying to counter-act the problem by introducing eye massage to them every day.’
‘Wow’, Ted shook his head. ‘Does that help? I mean, wouldn’t it be just more helpful to let them run around and play for sometime rather than sit studying all the time?’
Now it was the teacher’s turn to shake her head. ‘Yes, it would, I am sure. But with this competitive culture, it is not possible. The children need to be studying.’
‘I can see now why Oriental people are so hard working and why so many technological innovations come from here’, Ted hummed. ‘But surely there must be a way of finding a balance between not doing much studying and studying for twelve hours day….’
The teacher smiled her gentle smile. ‘ We are hoping to find that balance on day, but for now, we prefer hard-working to lazy!’