The collapse of the buxiban industry in Taiwan

Editorial / The Wild East
Taiwanese napping

Foreigners teaching in Taiwan’s ‘buxibans’, or cram schools are finding an increasingly tough job market, with sharply reductions in hourly and monthly wages, fewer teacher openings, and competition with an influx of new graduates entering the stagnant, saturated world of English teaching in Taiwan.

In the past decade, people have come to Taiwan seeking a good solid teaching and living experience in Asia. But now experienced teachers are experiencing a tangible shift.
‘The pickings are slim and odd,’ as one member commented in a discussion group.

An increasingly ‘piecemeal’ approach to earning one’s bread is becoming the norm.  Jobs with the hitherto ‘average’ teaching salaries of 60-75k/month in the past decade are fast drying up – forcing some to teaching outside Taipei, in other parts of Taiwan, or leaving for greener pastures in Southeast Asia.

Schools have recently tasked themselves with eliminating teaching positions entirely and drastically cutting ESL teaching hours, sometimes to a few hours a month.

One experienced American teacher applied to work at Gram School in Tamsui, only to be given 10 hours a month to teach at four separate schools around Taipei, requiring an hour’s commute. She did her best to negotiate a 650nt minimum hourly salary, and also tried private tutoring engagements – those formerly paid 1000nt hour, which is now slashed in half.

Foreign teacher’s salaries have inexorably drifted downward to the mid-50s, even as low as 48,000 in one case, about a 20 percent pay cut across the board. The typical hourly salary of 650-750nt (US$22-25) for the past 15 years has also slipped to 550-600 hour (US$18-20).
One American professor investigating university teaching jobs here found the same paucity of positions and recent cuts in hourly wages. She considers Taiwan her home, but will be keeping an eye on options teaching in other parts of the world next year.

Schools cut salaries and positions, and are also expecting far more unpaid teaching and class preparation hours, adding contractual obligations such as mandatory unpaid attendance on weekends, and at school promotional activities.

Things will probably get worse for foreign teachers, too, because the great underlying cause behind all these changes is Taiwan’s low birthrate. Taiwan’s making babies at a rate that is the lowest in the world after Japan, below replacement rate.

Taiwan’s population is greying – so maybe all the nurses and caregivers from Southeast Asia are in the right career field!

Meantime, the youth population is so low that even some universities have started to close, so teaching opportunities there are getting scarcer, too.

Last year, Shyr Yu boarding school in northern Taiwan, for instance, saw rosters drop 25 percent from the previous year. The school responded by cutting one teaching position and loading the one remaining foreign teacher with the extra hours.

One actual benefit of all these changes is that classes have sharply reduced in size as well. Therefore ostensibly, Taiwanese young people may actually see some improvements in their language-learning experience by getting more personal attention and practice speaking – their Achille’s heel. Their language scores, and the resources allocated for education could also improve, possibly benefiting Taiwanese students in future, if the political will is there.
Taiwan could do a few things to ameliorate the overall situation. The MOE could take advantage of this restructuring process to revamp the English-language learning curriculum and make it relevant for its young citizens.

Also, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education could relax restrictions on allowing foreign teachers in public schools. Currently, there is a shortage of foreign teachers who hold a teaching degree from their country. Certified foreign teachers, however, get no tenure or pensions by teaching here, and often prefer the comparative stability of their career teaching back home. Usually retired certified teachers with an interest in Taiwan specifically might be drawn to teaching here.

Last year, educational consultants were urging the MOE to look into relaxing these restrictions, and W.E. would agree with their efforts. Relaxing restrictions on hiring teachers with the equivalent of say a Master’s degree, would surely fit both side’s interests. And importantly, such a measure would allow otherwise fully qualified teachers to fulfill Taiwan’s real need for more native instructors into the classroom.

Advice for new teachers:  Buyer beware! Although Taiwan can still be a great experience, make sure to keep your employers honest ! If they violate the terms of your contract, you owe it to the rest of us to contact the Ministry of Labor’s office to help moderate in your case.

Advice for long-time teachers: Hang in there if you like, but looks like you’re gonna have to keep your options open !

Advice for would-be teachers: Get your teaching credential as an undergrad !

What do you think? 🙂 Do you have any recommendations or experiences you’d like to share? 

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