While I no longer work with educational institutions in Taiwan, I do like to share my experiences with them. I have a unique knowledge in that I have been in both the education side as well as the managerial side; this allows me to have a perspective that is rarely gained and even less-commonly shared.
While I have a lot to say on the entire subject, today I’d like to talk about how buxiban (private after-school learning centers) buy and sell children. Of course, I don’t mean buy and sell them, like slaves. What buxiban do is simply buying/selling contracts off other buxiban.
Imagine two buxiban, each with 100 students – we will call the Buxiban A and Buxiban B.
Both buxiban have the exact same number of students in perfectly even demographics – there are equal numbers of boys and girls and there are equal numbers of students in elementary school and junior high school.
Buxiban A wants to change their curriculum and cater to elementary school students, but it won’t suit their junior high school students very well.
Buxiban B wants to change their curriculum and cater to junior high school students, but it won’t suit their elementary school students very well.
Whatever are they to do? After all, contracts have been signed! They have to provide education to the people they promised to provide an education to…but they really don’t want to do that, anymore. If only they could somehow turn the students they don’t want into students they do want…
Enter the classically sneaky business of “Buying Schools” and “Trading Contracts.”
We’ll start with Contract Trading. This is simply when two schools swap contracts of their students, often with one side paying a little cash to even the spread (depending on hours and duration of the contracts and such). It almost-always happens behind parents’ backs right up until the deal is made, when the parents are told, “We are fulfilling the contract, but you will have to go to a different school.” They’re not actually breaking the contract, despite no longer actually providing services to the students.
Think of it like if AT&T bought a bunch of contracts off of Verizon – the customers are still getting cell phone service, so Verizon is in the clear, even though it’s a shitty thing to do to their customers, without any notice. At the same time, those customers can now break their new AT&T contracts, because they never actually signed up with them.
So Buxiban A and Buxiban B swap students, hoping that the parents will still be satisfied with the service they are providing, and stay with the new schools they have been shifted to. Teachers, also, can be traded to different schools, if they are not contract employees (which many Westerners are not). I have had it happen where I show up to a school thinking I am teaching in ten minutes only to discover that my class is now at a new school two miles away. It is also not uncommon for those teachers to be fired by the schools they are traded to, because foreign teachers cost a lot of money. Buxiban A is happy to give their students to Buxiban B, and they can even say “They will have the same foreign teacher,” at least for a few weeks, until the kids are acclimated. After that, the teacher disappears and Buxiban B hopes it can maintain the contracts.
Another practice is simply buying out competing buxiban. This happens all the time, where a buxiban will begin to do well, threaten the bottom line of a different nearby buxiban, and find themselves being offered a substantial sum of money to walk away and let the competition take over their branch. Often, the physical location of the buxiban will exist for a month or two, until parents are more comfortable with the idea that their kids just got sold off by a buxiban they trusted to teach them, and then the branch will be closed and the students will be moved into another branch, to save money. It also helps the buxiban, if they had classes that were too small or two few, as now the parents who already have their kids going there can think, “This must be a good school – they just got a lot more students – we should keep our child here.”
Now, I shouldn’t have to tell you that the whole buxiban game is a hustle. The “classes with foreigners” are literally nothing more than flashcards and games – there is almost no interaction with the foreigner, to develop any language skills. Students are drilled in the vocabulary so they can pass an arbitrary test and the parents can have the illusion that the child is learning English when, in reality, that’s the last goal a buxiban has. If you look at any Mission Statement of any buxiban, their primary goal is to make students/parents happy, not to educate. They are in the money-making business, period. Just like a bank isn’t in the real estate business, but still does a lot of real estate business, so are buxiban really not in the education business – they just happen to dabble in it, to make money.
The logic is simple. If a student gets so good at English that their skills are better than the Taiwanese teachers at the buxiban, or worse, their own schools, it’s going to be clear to the parents that the school has no more to offer their child, in terms of education. So, the buxiban focuses on not educating, and instead making the child have as much happy happy fun time as possible. While many schools have slogans about “teaching the future leaders of tomorrow,” it’s almost-entirely bullshit. If a student doesn’t ace the tests, the parents blame the school for not teaching – so the schools simply rig the system to make sure all the kids pass a test they are drilled on all week long.
This goes on week after week, for years on-end. To the point where you can meet a teenager who has been in “English Programs” since they were three years old, and they will not be able to have a conversation with you, because they have never had any experience in an interactive conversation in English before. The same process works with adults, who will often sign up for classes saying “I want to improve my grammar and my speaking-and-listening skills” only to respond to questions about what they think of their classes with things like “It’s fun” or “I’ve made lots of new friends.”
I’ve broken past 1100 words, so my indictment will continue at a later date. This is for you, Taiwan: stop buying into the bullshit of buxiban or, within a generation, you will have no ability to conduct business in the global market.
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