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Kindergartens hit by head-starters

Intense competition is a way of life for schoolchildren and students in Taiwan.

As more women join the workforce, the demand for pre-school education has rocketed. But there is another reason for the growth in kindergartens, which educate about a quarter of under-sixes - the head-start syndrome.

"Parents are worried about future university exams, so they send their children to private kindergartens to get an early start," says Candy Chiang, who teaches English in a private kindergarten.

It is this pressure that leads to fierce competition among kindergartens, some of which offer extras like English and computers but more importantly have a record of sending pupils to desirable elementary or junior schools. Only a quarter of the kindergarten population goes to public kindergartens attached to elementary schools. All this, to pave the way for entry to the right university.

Perhaps inevitably, much curriculum development (which is free from government control) is consumer-driven. While this means a proliferation of Montessori and Froebel schools, it also means an early concentration on writing; 80 per cent of kindergartens teach writing. This includes sending children home with repetitive practice sheets as homework, because that is what parents want in return for the high fees they pay.

Lan Shun-teh of the Ministry of Education's elementary education department says this is one of the biggest problems in pre-school education.

"There's a large gap between what society regards as a good kindergarten and what educational theorists regard as a good kindergarten. Parents want the schools to teach their children Chinese, spoken and written. They think if they don't learn how to write, they won't be able to catch up with their peers at primary school."

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