Nudging pre-schools in Taiwan to improve

TAIWAN — Before 2009, Dajia Primary Pre-School was on the brink of closing down. Enrolment was falling and its facilities were in need of sprucing up.

There were also signs that its pupils were not coping well with the curriculum — they were easily tired after short physical activity sessions and would constantly ask the teachers for help with simple tasks, the pre-school’s Principal Wu Shu-zhen recounted.

But thanks to the Taiwan government’s Guidance Project initiative, Dajia’s fortunes have been turned around. The pre-school now enjoys full enrolment, and its curriculum and amenities are much improved.

“Teachers are no longer just giving instructions and the kids also become motivated to try new things,” said Ms Wu.

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The Guidance Project was introduced in 2006 to help ailing pre-schools in Taiwan to improve quality standards. Pre-schools can seek different forms of support from a panel of early childhood academics, ranging from basic advice to professional development mentoring. For example, under professional development mentoring, pre-schools can receive eight visits or at least forty hours of advice from the experts over a year.

Schools will be also given NT$60,000 (S$2,500) to buy learning materials or renovate their facilities. Each year, the government invests about NT$30 million in the scheme, the Taiwan Ministry of Education said. Last year, 621 pre-schools took part in it.

Dr Lin Pei-jung, who is among the scheme’s pioneers, described it as a “softer approach” to spur improvements in pre-schools, compared to a regime of rules and penalties. Dr Lin, an academic at the University of Taipei, said: “The pre-schools will be inspired to change as they have experts giving them customised advice and helping them each step of the way.”

Nevertheless, Dr Lin Yu-Wei, a mentor academic, said public pre-school teachers who have many years of experience could be resistant to change. At private pre-schools, there are limited financial resources and their teachers might not be suitably trained to be able to implement improvements, she added.

Dr Lin Pei-jung also pointed out the need to constantly track the progress of pre-schools under the scheme, so that those which do not show enough improvements can be withdrawn.

Overall, the scheme has resulted in visible improvements across the Taiwan pre-school sector and the academics agreed that Singapore could consider setting up a similar scheme. Dr Lin Pei-jung noted that while Singapore might not have enough early childhood experts to act as mentors, it could tap on overseas experts. Before the scheme can be rolled out, model pre-schools will also have to be identified as a benchmark for others, she suggested.

NG JING YNG

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