In promoting English as the second official language, the Tainan City Government adopted “english-taught courses” and “bilingual education” as the two main schemes of the education sector. After a year of preparation, Ximen Elementary School in Anping District and Nanxun Elementary School in Xinying District will officially become the first two public bilingual experimental elementary schools in Tainan this August. Before the operation kicks off, Office of English as the Second Official Language (OEASOL) especially invited the English counseling group from Bureau of Education of Tainan City Government and representatives of the bilingual experimental elementary schools to visit Taipei Dongxin Elementary School in order to know how the school organizes the content and schedule of its bilingual education program. Through exchanging information and experiences, OEASOL hoped that the bilingual education plan would be more complete.
According to OEASOL, this February, Taipei City Government also announced that they will be promoting bilingual education and chose Dongxin Elementary School and Wenchang Elementary School to be the first two bilingual elementary schools starting from the 106th academic year. As Tainan City and Taipei City are still considered pioneers in conducting bilingual education in elementary schools where there is no precedents or guidelines to follow, the two cities will have to learn from and exchange experiences with each other in the future.
During the conference, Cheng Sheng-yuan, principal of Dongxin Elementary School, shared his experience visiting American bilingual schools and elaborated on what methods those schools applied in planning the courses and allocating the teachers. For the arrangement of bilingual classes, there are eight lessons a week in which topics regarding daily life, physical education, or art and culture are brought into the curriculum in English. The bilingual classes take one-third of students’ weekly class schedule. Materials for the first year will be used on the first grade and those for the second year on the second grade, and so on. Dongxin Elementary School has fifty teachers in total; among them, there are eight English teachers. The bilingual education is planned and prepared by English teachers and other teachers together. Mr. Zheng said that, take the lessons which are related to our daily lives for example, projects that are more abstract are taught by regular teachers while more specific courses or lessons that could be expressed in body languages are taught by English teachers. P.E. class, on the other hand, is taught in full English.
Representatives of the two cities also discussed with each other on the difficulties and challenges they have encountered through the process of promoting bilingual education. They found out that the source of teachers is the primary issue; other factors such as class designs, lectures arrangement, and communication with parents are also challenges that have been faced throughout the process. People who participated the conference thought that the structure of teachers is the key to the success and expansion of bilingual education. Due to the fact that more and more grades are going to be included in the plan, more English teachers or teachers with basic English proficiency will need to be recruited. This is why in Tainan City, those who teach sports, art, and music on trial can get extra points if they teach in English and that teachers are encouraged to obtain English proficiency certificates.
Chris Caputo, former consultant of of OEASOL, indicated that, because of the lack of teachers who speak fluent English, the amount of subjects and lessons taught in English at public elementary schools in the two cities still can’t meet most people’s expectation. To reinforce a more mature and solid bilingual education, the two cities need more teachers who speak English fluently. Seeing that constantly hiring foreign teachers to conduct bilingual education in the long term will be a heavy financial burden to bear, Tainan City Government is motivated to put more emphasis on English proficiency as one of the qualifications for earning a teacher certificate in an attempt to recruit more local teachers who speak excellent English. Caputo emphasized that more measures are needed, “Though colleges and vocational schools have been training future teachers (especially future English teachers) to teach, the training methods used are not optimal for creating or increasing bilingual teachers. English teachers may be able to ace teacher assessment exams and perform well on grammatical or verbal questions, but very few are confident in teaching English in English.” We hope that in the future, we can expand the bilingual education program and convince teacher-training institutions to put more emphasis on proficiency in English listening and speaking to strengthen the competency of teachers.
Though there are many challenges and limitations, the two cities are still full of confidence with bilingual education and consider it a transformative program that is worth investing a huge amount of effort in. It is only when English listening and speaking start taking root in primary school education could the English proficiency level of the next generation be elevated. We look forward to a long-term cooperation between the two cities where they continue to help and share experiences with each other, establishing a successful model of bilingual education.