The view from Taiwan: In school but life is different

Strict adherence to Covid rules mean schools in Taiwan are open – yet life isn't normal, says this international teacher
28th January 2021, 2:08pm
Jess Gosling


The view from Taiwan: In school but life is different
Coronavirus: Schools In Taiwan Are Open - But Life Is Far From Normal, Says This International Teacher

Arriving in Taiwan, I soon noticed that, although I was in Asia, this was not like the other nations in South-East Asia that I knew.

Taiwanese people queue in an orderly line, for a start.

The local people were quiet but friendly. I could walk down the street and not be assaulted by the relentless noise I had experienced in Vietnam. Social compliance was key, along with an unwavering respect for order.

My partner and I would often have a giggle at the posters stuck to our elevator wall in our apartment block, which, for example, showed a photo of a cigarette butt found on the grounds (in an attempt to shame those who had dropped it) and a note about "proper" swimming pool etiquette, including "no frolicking".

Coronavirus: Everything changes

Then 2020 happened.

I remember very clearly the first time I was aware of Covid-19. It was a sunny day for the Chinese New Year and I met a friend at a local village.

She was wearing a mask, a full zipped jacket and gloves. I asked her why and she explained there was a new virus from China and she would be looking to get out of the country pretty soon.

Very soon life changed. However, although we went through school closures, they were relatively short - approximately four weeks over two time periods

The school mimicked Taiwanese society, following preventative measures rather than reactive. Temperature checking of all individuals entering the building began immediately, and compulsory mask-wearing.

Throughout the school, children were taught how to properly wash their hands, which they did every time they entered or left their classroom. The classrooms were regularly cleaned and disinfected. Parents and staff were required to sign travel declarations.

Further, parents were instructed to collect their children outside of the school. Our parent conferences were conducted by Zoom, as were all staff meetings.

Minimal changes to pupils' education

As for the children, their day-to-day life has not changed a great deal.

The biggest difference they notice is the socially distanced dining hall, where Perspex dividers allow them to see each other and talk to one another, but without transferring germs.

Within class, they are reminded to wear their masks at all time, to reduce contact with one another and not to touch any other child's masks.

Because the large majority of them are Taiwanese, they listen and follow. I was amazed at how many children, even in the hottest of months, did not lower or remove their masks. Those posters in our apartment made a lot more sense.

As a teacher, I have grown used to wearing a mask. I enjoy the protection it offers and I know I am modelling the attitudes that we require the students to have.

Wearing a mask for over a year now has made me realise just how much we have reduced our risks. For the first time in my career, I did not catch a cold in winter. I seem to be sick less - as are my children.

Moving forward

Now I work in my school full-time, with full classes. After the temperature checks, there is little disruption to my routines.

My Reception children play as they always have done, accessing all the equipment and playing with their friends with gusto, and there is a care-free, happy and excited atmosphere which begins the moment they walk in, seemingly unaffected by the worldwide pandemic.

I am thankful that I get to go to school every day and have the contact with my class that I have been trained for.

Our short time using Seesaw online is almost a distant memory, but I am aware this can change at any time.

We cannot predict how long this pandemic will last. I hope that, as cases begin to reduce, schools across the world will be able to teach as we do here in Taiwan.

Normality - but at a price

Living in "the Taiwan bubble", I oscillate between feeling fortunate, guilty and just plain sad - sad to still be missing family, to be unable to travel, to have the same close connection to those around me.

One strategy I have used to help me is to try to appreciate the smallest of things that we are able to do; meeting friends for a chat, driving to the country for a walk or simply going outside.

I try to stay connected with home, too. I have been recording snapshots of our everyday life: video, audio and taking photos to send to my daughter's grandma.

Such little snapshots are quick to make but record our experiences, so far removed from the UK.

As we head towards Chinese New Year, I can't help but feel how fortunate Taiwanese people are to be together with their families for this celebration.

But this is due to their diligence and willingness to follow rules.

Jess Gosling is a Reception teacher for the British section at Taipei European School. She tweets @JessGosling2

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