When I compare public primary schools in America and Kinmen, I reflect on my experiences teaching first grade in America, my time at Bor-Tsuen Primary School in Kinmen, and anecdotes from fellow English Teaching Assistants about their current schools. Here are a few of my observations.
The economic backgrounds of my students certainly play a role in these cultural and educational differences. For example, my public school students in America came from working class families, which means that their guardians often worked in the food industry and in other menial labor businesses. Many of their families spoke Spanish, so there was a language barrier that impeded communication. My students in Kinmen come from nearby farming and fishing villages. Some of them have immigrated from mainland China, aboriginal Taiwan, and Thailand. Their families speak dialects, resulting in a language barrier between school faculty and student populace.
There are a few key cultural differences between public primary schools in America and Kinmen that immediately stand out to me. The first is the structure of the buildings themselves. American schools tend to have all their classrooms connected by closed hallways, while on rainy days in Kinmen, I have had to take an umbrella from the office building to the classrooms, from the classrooms to the cafeteria since there are no connecting hallways to keep me dry. American school buildings typically have a heating system installed as well, so wearing a coat inside the classroom along with my students at Bor-Tsuen was a new experience.
Another cultural difference is how the American school system views special education students. Cases of abuse are treated separately from students with developmental delays, learning disorders, and physical disabilities. On the other hand, in Kinmen, I was surprised when my student with emotional problems was taken out of the classroom as often as the boy who could not remember how to write his own English name for an entire semester (before I shortened it to four letters).
Finally, maintenance for the entire school is typically the responsibility of employees in America. For example, the custodian mops the hallways and the groundskeeper sweeps the campus. In Kinmen, students play a role in the upkeep of school grounds. Another cultural difference is that in America, classes are supposed to start when the bell rings. Students should already be at their desks, waiting for instruction. In Kinmen, the bell signals that students are to come to class. Students who have not finished their beginning-of-the-day chore can continue even after the bell has rung.