On October 24, 2019 I hosted a Tricky Talks event with the Australian-Taiwanese CEO of Teach For Taiwan, Stanley Wang. It was an honor to share the stage with him and raise awareness about the work of Teach For Taiwan and the very important issue of education inequality in Taiwan.

Stanley is a seasoned language teacher, an experienced manager and a polyglot who speaks Japanese, Mandarin, English, plus conversational Korean and French. He moved back to Taipei from Melbourne in 2018 to join Teach For Taiwan as Chief Strategy Officer, and was promoted to CEO in August 2019. Most important of all, he’s passionate about the future of Taiwan. Here are highlights of what Stanley shared on the night…

Tricky Talks at the WeWork space in Xinyi District.

The not-for-profit Teach For Taiwan turns six in 2019, and this year’s cohort of 49 teachers is the organization’s biggest ever. They received 700 applications for teaching positions, which means an acceptance rate of only 7%. It’s a stark contrast to the common impression that teaching as a profession is on the decline in Taiwan.

Stanley Wang, CEO of Teach For Taiwan.

Even though Teach For Taiwan focuses its recruitment efforts on new college graduates, the program seems to attract slightly older applicants in Taiwan. Specifically, the typical profile of a successful applicant is a young working professional who’s looking for a more rewarding career.

Successful applicants are put through a supportive training program to build their leadership skills before they are placed for two years in disadvantaged schools around the country. During those two years, the new teachers receive a monthly salary and continued support from Teach For Taiwan mentors.

Kathy Cheng and Stanley Wang on stage at Tricky Talks.

Teach For Taiwan works with three types of schools: indigenous tribal schools, remote schools and experimental schools. 

Around 50% of schools in the Teach For Taiwan network are classified as “remote”, and almost half of these remote schools have 50 students or fewer. As a priority, new teachers with a personal connection to indigenous communities are placed back to their hometowns. This is a great way for children to see the impact of education on older members of their community. Finally, experimental schools are a new phenomenon in Taiwan that see struggling schools use educational innovation as a way to attract urban families to return.

Alumni from Teach For Taiwan.

So, education inquality. Just how serious is the problem in Taiwan? In 2015, Taiwanese students ranked 4th in the world in terms of national average, but the proportion of under-achievers was 1.4 times more than Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau. Taiwan also ranks 4th in the Achievement Gap, after Malta, China, Israel. This equates to approximately six years of schooling between the highest and lowest performers in the same year.

Beverages thanks to Tricky Talks sponsors Buckskin and Crystal Valley.

Teach For Taiwan is modeled on the original Teach For America program, which started in 1990. The global Teach For All network was founded in 2007 and is the umbrella organization for all of the country programs around the world. Unfortunately, Taiwan isn’t accepted as an official partner country and isn’t invited to participate in global events.

This year’s global Teach For All conference was held in Armenia from October 20 to 23. As expected, Taiwan was not allowed to participate. In a funny coincidence, it was the same time as Tricky Talks. Stanley spoke about his disappointment that Taiwan is excluded, but also spoke of the solidarity felt amongst other non-official programs in countries such as Canada and Russia.

Reading through Teach for Taiwan’s 5th Year annual report.

The work of Teach For Taiwan is made possible by big-name corporate sponsors who contribute cash, employee time and other resources. For instance, Ford donates rental cars for teachers to reach remote areas since riding scooters on mountain roads can be both tricky and dangerous.

Also, Taiwan High Speed Rail donated 2,000 rail tickets in 2016 to help teachers get around the island, and ran a donation campaign to promote Teach For Taiwan using the back-of-the-seat envelopes.

Musical guest 謝孟庭 Hsieh Mengting.

What’s the relationship like between Teach For Taiwan and the government-run Ministry of Education? Stanley described it as both collaborative and competitive.

It’s collaborative when Teach For Taiwan helps fill teaching gaps there are gaps in quality staffing. And the Ministry has allowed for Teach For Taiwan to partner with universities to run teaching classes in the evenings and weekends. However, the relationship can also be competitive in that both Teach For Taiwan and the Ministry are potentially drawing talent from the same recruitment pool.

Good times exchanging Twitter handles.

Before moving back to Taiwan, Stanley held the position of Head of Languages at Haileybury, an award-winning independent school in Melbourne. In that role he managed 78 language teachers in the Haileybury network.

I asked him about the Ministry of Education’s plan to implement English as Taiwan’s official second language. Specifically, the Ministry’s target to have 2,000 teachers by 2022 who can teach subjects such as math, science, world history, and geography in English. The goal increases to 5,000 teachers by 2030.

Pineapple cakes from Taiwan’s own 高女婿 Kaonuxu.

In Stanley’s own words: “I think people often mix up the debate between having a national bilingual language policy and having a more rigorous English language education program in schools. This confusion is happening because the Ministry of the Interior is selling the concept of a bilingual policy by only talking about its impact on education.”

He continued, “They claim education is the best starting point, but without hearing the rest of how they plan to roll out the bilingual policy, it’s questionable if the public would really understand and appreciate what it means to have a national education policy. The everyday public simply thinks it means two languages at school, which is dangerous and very misinformed.”

A much deserved beer for Stanley after the on-stage conversation.

So is there a chance of the plan succeeding? Stanley says, “From our experience at Teach For Taiwan, it’s clear that the proposed plan of teaching subjects in English will widen the urban and rural gap, since finding an English teacher for the schools we serve is hard enough as it is, let alone one that can teach subjects in English.”

As a parent myself and someone who’s personally vested in the future of Taiwan, I’m in awe of Stanley’s commitment to making the future brighter for kids throughout Taiwan. It goes without saying: Taiwan needs more talented young leaders to come back and make an impact.

I want to thank Stanley for taking the time to share his opinions and stories (he’s a very busy guy!) and also to the Teach For Taiwan alumni who joined us on the night. For more information about their work, you can watch this introductory video with English subtitles on YouTube and check out this recent news article.

Til the next one!

Tricky Taipei was able to make a donation of 8,000NT to Teach For Taiwan from the proceeds of ticket sales.

Huge thanks to WeWork for allowing us to use their lovely new space in Xinyi District, and to Buckskin Beer for providing beverages for our guests.

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