School children suffer when economy goes bad

The China Post staff

A high-profile television ad campaign paid for by the Kuomintang shows a young child looking up into the cameras and saying: “I’m on a diet, so I don’t need to eat lunch. But please help my father find a job.” The politics of the ad is blunt, but behind that message is the increasingly obvious reality of the trickle-down effect that Taiwan’s economic downturn is having on children, teachers and counselors across the country. According to one counselor at a Taipei County elementary school, on average there are at least one or two students in each class who aren’t able to buy lunch because one or both parents are out of work. She also tells of a student whose father left home after losing his job. Now, that student spends his time not in school, but accompanying his grandparents as they roam around scavenging for food and anything else of value. In such cases, teachers are sometimes able to lend a hand, either by arranging for an occasional bath or helping students out with lunch money. In other situations, though, there seems that there is little that can be done. A woman elementary teacher in Taoyuan County says that more and more of her students are noticing that their parents are in bad moods. And indeed, she say, there have been more and more cases recently of parents getting into heated arguments with the school over what would appear to be trifling matters. Sometimes, though, the anger and desperation that surround unemployment can erupt in domestic violence. Another teacher at a Kaohsiung County elementary school says that some families are having a tough time making ends meet even if the bread-earners are still working. Some families have decided to move their children to schools serving communities with large aboriginal populations in order to benefit from subsidized lunches and a lower cost of living, he reports. And while younger children can do little but help around the home, more and more students at the high school or college level are holding down jobs to help make up for lost parental income. One student at the prestigious National Taiwan University has been using the summer vacation to put in up to 12 hour days since his father lost his job. A teacher at a vocational high school’s night school says it is not uncommon for students to be working two part time jobs during the day to help out the family. And when there is a choice between school work and paying work, he says, students don’t hesitate to take a leave of absence from classes. That is exactly the sort of problem that Tatong High School principal He Yao-chang is talking about when he calls on students not to give up during the hard times. Life is full of ups and downs, He says, adding that he hopes that students won’t give up on their studies in the face of economic adversity. He says that his school is already contacting local businesses to try to interest them in making donations to a scholarship fund that would be used for students having trouble paying their tuition. Similar efforts are also underway at other schools. Kao Ping-nan, the principal of Taipei’s Huachiang High School, says that his school is willing to help students make their tuition payments if they are having economic difficulties. And at the Chinese Culture University, students whose fathers are out of work will be eligible to apply for special financial assistance for the first time this year, according to the school’s principal, Lin Tsai-mei.