As Taiwan's Students Cram for Tests, the Poor Fall Behind

By Jenny Orgill, staff editor A buxiban is a “cram” school where children spend many hours supplementing their public school studies. Parents feel that Taiwan’s very competitive university entrance examination system necessitates buxiban attendance from a young age. Jay Chen, Director of the KoJen English Center, one of Taiwan’s most famous buxibans, estimates that roughly 80% of Taiwanese children attend buxibans.

These buxibans contribute to the widening education gap between the wealthy and the poor in Taiwan. The richer the family, the better the buxiban they can afford. Thus, a rich child attending the same public school as a poor child will have a much better chance to obtain a good university education because of the quantity and quality of "buxi" that his or her parents can afford. This effect is particularly evident in the rural and urban divide. I spent six weeks in Xinying, a small town in the Taiwanese countryside. I rarely heard of anyone regularly attending buxibans. After Xinying, I moved to Kaohsiung, a thriving port city in southern Taiwan. On nearly every street corner, I could find a buxiban.

The solution to the gap between education opportunities available to the wealthy and poor requires an approach that extends beyond education reform. Due to the well-entrenched nature of buxibans in Taiwan, national policies should be focused on increasing lower-income families’ access to additional tutoring. Australia has had experience with this approach by providing vouchers to low-income parents to obtain tutoring for their children. The Taiwanese government should consider a similar program to provide additional after-school tutoring at no cost to low-income students.

In conjunction with these policies, Taiwan should consider changing the admission standards of public universities. Currently, admission to public universities in Taiwan depends almost exclusively on performance on the national university entrance exam. This heavy emphasis on academics is physically and psychologically exhausting for students. The national universities should consider basing admission decisions in part upon a student’s development of personal talents. Placing an emphasis on extracurricular achievements will relieve the stress of students and create well-rounded student bodies. These criteria would encourage students to spend time developing personal skills rather than spending all of their after-school hours at buxibans. Such a change in admission criteria would provide a greater opportunity for students from lower-income families to gain access to public universities.

Providing Pain Relief in Africa

For a Clean Energy Future, is Passive the New Green?