後南陽街時代來臨!──補習文化再探

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1996 / 10月

文‧陳淑美 圖‧卜華志



新任教育部長吳京上任以來,頻頻出招:先是籲請「教育大赦令」,希望李登輝總統大筆一揮,實施高職免試升學、高中學區制、大學聯考試題簡化等改革方案,如此「三管」齊下,就能消除學生的升學壓力,又提出取消早自習、惡補、體能加分,希望「將學生還給家庭,青春還給學生」。

這些改革方案,都是衝著聯招而來。升學主義引來的惡性補習,更是教育改革的頭號大敵,多少的父母因此送孩子出走他鄉。問題是,當聯考的試題越來越簡單,升學的方式越來越多元化,補習果真如教改人士所望,終有一天會走入歷史嗎?

中國人講究食補、藥補,有機會就要「進補」。「補不足」與「上工治未病」,是進補的兩大觀念。套句現代的廣告詞就是,有病治病,無病補身,人人皆可補,時時皆宜補。這樣的食補文化,是否也反映在教育上,成為特殊的「補習文化」?

有病治病,無病補身

當體能加分的新聞上了報紙的頭版頭條,不少的家長的反應是:如果連體育課的成績都要計分,「那是不是大家也要開始送孩子去補體育了?」對如今年紀上了四、五十歲,家有小孩念國、高中的家長來說,「惡」補的「陰影」,恐怕還記憶猶新。

民國五十七年九月,九年國民義務教育開始實施,台灣的萬千學子因此可以從國小免試直升初中。翻閱當時報紙,當年實施九年國教的理由,「消除『惡補』、恢復正常教學」是主要原因之一。那是一個對教育充滿樂觀的年代,九年國教實施後,大家信心滿滿地盼望著,只要升學的管道一開,那種如今在電影裡有時還可以見到,一個瘦巴巴的小學生背著大書包,在昏黃燈光下苦讀、留校「惡補」的日子,可以從此不再。

但補習文化顯然並未因此而消失,補習科目倒是越來越「多元」了。國小升國中不用聯考,但也有未雨綢繆的家長擔心,「不考就能上」的國民中學因此程度下降,還是央請老師「補一補」,考個私立中學,「高中聯考才有希望」。至於那些開脫了國語數學作文等「本科」補習的幸運兒,補習市場又慨然提供了各式「才藝」補習──英語、心算、功文數學、電腦、速讀、美術、音樂、書法、圍棋、游泳、視力訓練等,凡是大家想得到的「才藝」,幾乎都有因應而生的補習班。

根據補習教育協會的說法,近十年來,兒童才藝班已經繼以升學為目的的文理補習班之後,成為補習班的大熱門。才藝班的種類越來越多,年齡層也越降越低,例如,以補「感覺統合」、肌耐力為訴求的「健寶園」,從零歲就可開始補,真正是「不讓孩子輸在起跑線上」。

「補」下天羅地網?

在這樣博大悠久的補習文化之下,去年九月,台北市文獻會舉行了一場「升學補習班回顧」座談會,廣邀台北市補習班的耆老們如六十年代名師徐真量、洪鐘等參加,以肯定他們幾十年來對教育付出的貢獻,希望有朝一日,教師節在表揚優良教師時,補習班老師也能佔一席之地。可惜不是每個人都能如此看待補習文化,尤其是那些家有孩童初長成,與孩子一同面對聯考壓力的家長們。

四年前,《出走紐西蘭》一書的作者尹萍,在一家報紙副刊上發表她對當今「惡質補習文化」的慨嘆。她的孩子那時念台北市區一所國中,從國二寒假起,家長便集體出面,在外面租房子、買桌椅,請學校各科最強的老師全面「進補」,每天補到晚上九點鐘。一開始尹萍並未讓孩子參加,但是到了三年級,在學校老師全班進度齊一(其他同學均已補習,提前上完學校功課了),「趕進度」的壓力下,這個從來反對補習的媽媽,也不得不讓孩子加入補習的行列。

尹萍最後終究還是為了孩子的教育移民紐西蘭,她以省思台灣教育問題為主軸寫成的《出走紐西蘭》一書,至今仍是暢銷書,可見社會上有多少人心有戚戚焉!但是「補」風卻愈演愈烈,欲罷不能。

補習的科目大增,花樣也不斷翻新。由家長出面,央請學校各科的強手老師,就近找一處隱密的地方,弄幾張桌子,「幫忙輔導敝子弟」的方式,如今雖然也還存在,但只能算是陽春型的補法。如今有更多的補習班專任名師,在學區附近,以「專業」為號召來招攬學生。學生也由過去數十人的小班,發展到了兩、三百人的大班。

補習班越來越「專業」,從頭痛醫頭的「單科補」,到全科包辦的「全補」,國中、高中、高職、專科……,不論年級,不論科別,神通廣大的補習班似乎都備妥了祖傳秘方大補帖,只要您願意進門,就可以包您進「研究所、公私立大學、夜大、五專、三專、二專……」等,任何您想去的地方。即便大學、研究所畢業以後,也還是有各種高普考、托福考、留學考、資格檢定考,甚至新聞、外交特考的跨越職業門檻的專業補習班,請君入甕。

青春的街坊?

除了散佈各地的「專業」補習班,台灣更發展出遠近馳名的「補習街」來。台北火車站附近的南陽街,是台灣「補習文化」的標竿,這條街不僅在台灣聞名,也馳名國際。前一陣子,英國電視台報導台灣數學教育現況,這條街也上了專題。

位於南陽街、已有二十年歷史的儒林補習班主任周明指出,在民國五十年代初期,全台灣各地並沒有專以考大學為主要功能的補習班,許多中南部來的莘莘學子,因為考不上大學,或是進不了理想的科系,於是就離鄉背井,千里迢迢來到台北「進補」。當時南陽街因為房租便宜,離火車站又近,許多升大學補習班,開始集中在這個區。一直到現在,每年八、九月過後,拎著大皮箱,從台北火車站下車,面容焦慮,找尋南陽街位置的年輕人,仍是許多人的共同印象。

「在南陽街走路,一塊招牌砸下來,十個有九個重考生,」這很可能不是笑話。如今的南陽街,雖已因房租飆漲,及近火車站的地利之便,增加了許多速食、服飾、超商等店面,但補習班,及因為補習班衍生出來的許多行業:狹窄可容納多人居住的房舍,快而便捷的自助餐廳、水果攤、飲食店、K書中心等,還是街面的主要景觀。南陽街補習班及相關店鋪的安全、衛生狀況,青年男女的身心適應等,也常成為新聞的焦點。

長江後浪推前浪,一代新人換舊人,當補習班堂堂進入富裕的八十年代,「惡」補之實或許仍然存在,台面上的補習大業,講的卻是「讓補習成為一種享受!」補習班的確不一樣了!

後南陽街時代來臨!

後現代的老中青人類:假如您對補習班的「刻板印象」還是座椅空間狹小,廁所擁擠、骯髒,老師聲嘶力竭的話,那麼,你鐵定已經「過時」啦!

如今的立案補習班,講究的是「氣派大樓、全新裝潢,符合人體工學設計的課桌椅,比擬五星級飯店的廁所設備。教室天花板採耐火建材,還有『超過美國國家標準』的照明設備」。除了這些硬體設備外,老師的教法,也講究整體呈現:講義由智囊團編寫,改考卷或作文有輔導老師,點名採電腦刷卡機,透過電腦語音系統,父母立刻就可以知道孩子出缺席情況,考試答案卡由電腦閱卷,學生一考完試,就可以知道自己的成績。

跟硬體設備的改善同步,如今的補習班極講究包裝,極力塑造出溫暖、親切的形象。

一家位於杭州南路以名師為號召的家教班,暑假期間,為了方便學生前來試聽、上課,特別租用遊覽車,到定點接駁同學。於是酷暑的一些日子裡,在這棟嶄新大樓的門口,路過的行人常會見到如斯的景象:寫著家教班名號「××英語」、「××數學」的旗幟一列排開,穿著家教班宣傳T恤的青春少年兩旁站立。這種旗幟飄飄、有如迎接貴賓的陣勢,不為什麼,只是為了迎接初來乍到的新生。

在補習業剛發跡的民國六、七十年代,補習班老師多由學校教師兼任。教師在校外兼課,一方面可增加收入;另一方面,在補習班教課時,受到進度、教材的限制較少,「說得不好聽,在學校不能發表的對時勢等的議論,或是帶點『顏色』的提神笑話,在補習班也較開放地談,」一位補教界人士指出。

最重要的,幾乎每個補習班「名師」,都有一套整理重點、壓縮教材的絕技,能將課本重點整理成一本本的講義,用「聯想法」、或「數字編」等各種絕招,硬是將考試重點塞進去學子的腦袋中,再加上幽默的警句笑話,遂成名師。因此當時的時空裡,講究名師,品牌當然是第一考量。例如「曾任教北一女、建中」,或是出身於「台大」、「師大」等名校,成為補習班的宣傳重點。

如今各項聯招考試還是以電腦閱卷為主,名師的這一套歸納、整理方法,「對考試絕對有效,」今年考上台大醫科的周韋翰說,「也多少教會了我們如何整理課本的知識。」但是當考試過後,「這一些『死讀』的知識能否還有用就不知道了!」周韋翰說。

造神運動

後來因為教育單位致力「抓補」,嚴格規定學校任課老師不得在校外補習,補習班不敢再明目張膽地以學校任教老師為招牌,於是講究硬體設備,售後服務(教完課有輔導老師幫忙解答試題、改作文等)、以升學率號召等招生方式因之而起。補教界資深老師洪鐘指出,民國七十六年間,台北一家補習班,採用跟賣房地產一樣的行銷戰術,大量訓練補習班招生人員,大批訓練工讀生,到百貨公司等青少年常去的地方,採「人海戰術」拉人招生,是為後來補習班行銷策略的濫觴,目前補習班的行銷方式,大抵不出這些範疇。

「招生人員比老師重要,」曾經是補教界人士的慨嘆,但在激烈的競爭下,「教得好」、「考試進步」等口碑還是最實際的,於是民國八十年代的補習班似乎又走回頭路,重新以名師為號召。但跟以往不同,如今的補教界名師,「有三分之二沒有在學校教過課,」年輕的補習班名師張群說,大多數的「名師」通常都在大學上課或畢業時,就被網羅到補習班教課,因為「口齒清晰、教課風趣,很討學生的緣,」張群說,因而在補教界留下來,成為補習班老師,他的太太徐薇就是其中一個例子。

跟以往不同,這些補教界的名師,很多都是在一些大型補習班一手策畫之下,「像培養明星一樣,將他們扶植起來,」補教界資深老師曾正平說,因此年輕、有活力,加上外表──男的多半英俊瀟灑,女的多半美麗大方,換句話說,除了課要教得好外,其他可以「包裝」的外在條件也很重要。

補習班、歌友會?

於是我們看到,名師的名號要經過設計,優雅不俗之外,還要叫得響亮,越來越像瓊瑤小說中的美麗人物──如陳立、郭洋、徐薇、朱志謀、杜雲天……,有些補習班更將名師的容顏製成海報、照片、圖樣,在補習班門口高高掛起,在招生廣告方面,天王天后巨星雲集,更可見公車看板或第四台上,有的善說笑話、喜歡運動,抱著小孩的慈祥父母形象都是賣點。

補教界的人士都說,這是投合當前的趨勢,採軟性訴求,以迎合父母、孩童的需要。學儒補習班班主任林功偉指出,國、高中的孩子,多少都會有偶像崇拜的傾向,以名師包裝為號召只是投他們所好。但是青春時期的同儕心理也扮演重要角色。許多國高中的孩子認為,其實他們不在乎這些,只是因為「同學都來這兒補習,所以我也要來,」今年升高一的黃俊傑說,但是「聊一聊補習班名師的美醜、他們今天穿了什麼衣服,講了什麼『假仙的』笑話,笑聲有多奇怪……」,在繁重的功課下,的確可解悶舒暢身心,甚至於在學校裡,在那裡補習的同學,還會各分派系,如數學解題「××派」、「××派」等,自成集團。印證了林功偉所說,到補習班孩子不僅是補功課,也是「補社交」。

這或許也可以解釋,當今的補習班,特別是以名師為號召的家教班,為何班級人數從二百、三百到四百,甚至到了六百人為一班的畸形現象。補習班的解釋是「人越多越旺」。林功偉表示,他們曾試過招四、五十人為一班,結果生意不好,因為「對孩子來說,在補習班上課,不管是不是真的想上,其實只是一種對父母或對自己交代的一種『儀式』,」林功偉說,孩子們喜歡的是「前後左右四周,都有人包著的那種感覺。」英文老師徐薇也認為,以上英文來說,大班教學比小班教學好。因為「英文要背的,人越多念起來聲音越大,課堂的氣氛越熱烈。」

五、六百人一班怎麼上課?這的確是個好問題。補習班除了教室越來越大──以「全世界最大的教室」標榜外,還別出心裁在教室採分許多區,越早報名的區域越好──這又成為補習班的招生訴求,跟麥可•傑克森的演唱會有異曲同工之感——離黑板較遠的,看不到老師臉孔的,就以同步錄影的電視機「輔助」教學,稱為「視聽區」,學生們因此戲稱,相對於視聽區,坐在老師面前,能親炙老師容顏的為「搖滾區」。而報名的人潮,可以從清晨五點半排起,只為特區一位難求。

現代孩子上哪裡去?

為什麼補習班可以招到這麼多人?曾正平老師表示,招生的方式是重點。如今的補習班,主要的招生人員,都是已在或曾在補習就讀的學生,透過他們的人際網路──親戚朋友鄰居同學,像「老鼠會」一樣,一個可招十個到班裡來。對孩子來說,到補習班「工讀」,不管是打電話請人來試聽,或是到補習班幫忙「擺陣勢」,協助照顧學弟妹,套一句他們的話,這樣的工作又輕鬆,又沒有時間限制,又可「打屁」(聊天)。賺了錢,就去看電影、逛街,何樂不為?

更重要的一個問題是,在課餘之暇,這些孩子不到補習班,能到哪兒去呢?今年才上高一的黃俊傑說,他來補習班報名、試聽,一方面當然是擔心剛上高中,主要的科目跟不上,「補一補比較安心,」他說。而且在家裡,「閒著也是閒著,到補習班還可遇到舊同學、認識新同學,比較有事情可做」。

補習班名師高國華認為,現在父母都忙,補習班的確是家庭之外,一個可以教人比較放心,讓孩子可以待的地方,「至少不會像在家裡,要嘛看電視、打電動玩具或開冰箱,不然就跟父母親吵架,影響親子關係,」高國華開玩笑地說。更何況,在課業上,補習班也的確可以幫助孩子補足信心,「人家說我們填鴨,但我寧可說是熟能生巧,試題操作上成效尤其顯著,」他說,而且當孩子碰到課業上的疑難雜症時,與其擾煩父母,不如交給補習班「代理」。說起來,補習班還好像還發揮社福功能,間接地解決了不少人的家庭問題呢?

為何而進補?

可不是嗎?都會生活處處是花叢與陷阱,父母雙忙,就算是教育改革成真,「學生還給家庭,青春還給學生」,捧著交給家庭的學子和他們的青春,放在哪兒才好呢?

且看看:「××心、父母心」、「體諒父母心,護守人子情」、「別擔心、別徬徨,××為您找回自信」、「讓孩子找到一雙值得依靠的肩膀」、「××為你留最後一盞燈。」……,政大廣告系教授鄭自隆表示,補習班廣告已經脫離了地攤式的叫賣方式,跟汽車廣告一樣,也注重起「企業形象」來了。但從內容訴求看來,補習班的廣告難道不也如實地反映社會現狀,父母心、自信、肩膀、一盞燈……,如今的台灣社會,多少家庭的功能正「名正言順」地花錢轉嫁給補習班?

而補習班標榜的形象:崇拜名校,講排名、明星老師,追求嶄新大樓、科技電腦等進步設備,另一方面來看,不也就是你我奮勇向前追求的社會價值?!「名師」徐薇長年使用一部日本豐田轎車,學生還會笑她:「老師,您怎麼只開這個?」 孩子的言語無心,可是透露的社會價值盡在其中,對孩子來說,補習班名師收入既高,華服美食,開豪華轎車也就是必然的囉!換句話說,這正是成功者的形象,而補習、補習,為的不就是那一試,不管是高中或大專聯考,「一舉成名」,然後才有光明坦途?

一切都是為了──教育?

許多人懷疑,在台灣,補習班如此大量地存在,究竟聯考的誘因還有多少?根據教育部的統計,如今每年有一百十三萬人次的民眾參加過各種類型的補習班,也就說每二十人中,就有一個人上補習班。事實上,毋需教育部的統計,且看看你家隔壁的阿華阿雄,一個禮拜有多少時間花在補習班上,扣除星期天,一個禮拜「補」四個晚上的孩子,已經很「寒酸」了。

當然您也可以不要「從俗」,學尹萍一樣,到國外移民,以徹底脫離補習文化?一位補習界的數學名師在國語日報登廣告,他過去教過的學生在海外看到了,打越洋電話來向他說:「老師,您要不要移民到這邊教?我們這兒學生都已經找好了,立刻就可以開班……」。

而歐美最近在大炒亞洲價值,教育也是他們關注的角度之一。英國專家發現,台灣兒童的數學能力,比同齡的英國學童先進兩年,因此大大呼籲放棄小組教學,改採台灣式的大班上課。晚飯時刻,英國一家電視公司的攝影機對著南陽街補習班的學生群(看來像似在排隊買蚵仔麵線)配上感性的語調說,「今天是週五晚上,學生們都在這裡,看看他們排隊,為的是什麼?」「為了教育!」報導者權威地作了結論。

儒家文化果然不同凡響,補習文化更是博大精深,近悅遠來?!

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EN

Cram Culture-A Fresh Look at the Buxiban

Jackie Chen /photos courtesy of Pu Hua-chih /tr. by Brent Heinrich


Since his recent appointment, Minister of Education Wu Ching has made a series of recommendations. The first was a "Great Educational Amnesty," hoping that President Lee Teng-hui would implement a number of reform measures, such as eliminating examinations for vocational school enrollment, basing high school enrollment on students' residence, and simplifying the questions for the joint university entrance exam. Once set in place, these three measures would relieve the pressure students have graduating to higher levels. He also recommended doing away with early-morning study hour, "brutal cramming" and physical fitness requirements on entrance exams, in hopes of "giving students back to their families, giving youth back to students."

These reform measures have all been necessitated by the pressure in society to pass academic entrance examinations. In particular, arduous supplementary study courses brought about by a fixation with testing into ever better schools are the great villain targeted by education reform. It is this phenomenon that has even made many parents send their children abroad. The question is, if examination questions become easier and easier, and an increasing variety of options becomes available for getting accepted at schools, will buxibans-supplementary study schools, or "cram schools" as they are often known-really vanish into history as educational reformers hope?

The Chinese are highly concerned about dietary tonics and fortifying medicines. Whenever they have the chance, they will "take in dietary supplements." This practice is based largely on the two concepts, "Fortify your weaknesses" and "Prevent sickness in advance." In this slogan-oriented era, the advertisement catch-phrase goes: "If you're sick, nurse yourself; if you're well, strengthen your body." Everyone could stand to fortify themselves, and anytime is a good time to do it. Are the ever-popular supplementary schools a reflection of this kind of "tonic culture"?

Time to bone up

When newspaper headlines revealed that passing physical fitness tests would add points to students' entrance exam scores, the reaction of many parents was, if even physical fitness is part of the exam, "should everyone send their children to a buxiban to bone up on phys. ed.?" For parents of today who are forty or fifty years old and have children in middle or high school, the shadow of "brutal cramming" is still fresh in their memories.

In September of 1968, the ROC began implementing nine-year universal compulsory education. For this reason millions of Taiwan's students were able to progress from grade school to junior high without being tested. A look back at the newspapers of the time reveals that one of the major reasons for implementing nine-year compulsory education was to "eliminate 'brutal cramming' and return to normal education." That was an era entirely optimistic about education. After nine-year education was put into effect, everyone looked forward with complete confidence. As soon as the channels for moving forward in education were opened up, people believed the kind of scene that today we sometimes see in films-a scrawny little student with a book bag on his back, studying in misery by lamplight after the sun has set, staying in school after hours to "cram hard"-would be banished from that day forward.

But buxiban culture has obviously not gone away. On the contrary, supplementary education courses have become increasingly "diversified." Taking a joint entrance exam is no longer necessary to get into junior high, but there are parents who, wishing to take precautions, worry that standards have fallen in the public middle schools that admit kids without testing. They believe it's still best to bring in an extra teacher to "shore their kids up." Only if they get into a private junior high will they "have a hope of testing into high school." For those lucky lads and lasses who don't have to take such "basic material" as Mandarin, math, and composition, the buxiban market generously offers all kinds of extracurricular curricula in "the arts"-English, rapid math calculation, computers, speed reading, art, music, calligraphy, playing go, swimming, vision enhancement training, and so forth. For nearly any sort of accomplishment that anyone can think of, there's a buxiban that offers it.

According to the Supplementary Education Association, in the last decade, since children's arts classes have taken the place of entrance-exam-oriented humanities and science classes, they have become the hot selling point of buxibans. The variety of arts classes is constantly growing, and the students are younger and younger. For example, at less than a year old, pupils can begin attending Jiber buxiban, whose main aim is building emotional balance and stamina. This is really "making sure your children don't lose at the starting line."

Laying a dragnet

In the context of such an impressive and long-lasting buxiban culture, the Committee of Taipei Historical Records held a seminar in September of last year on "Examination-Oriented Supplementary Schools in Retrospect." They invited a wide number of Taipei City's senior pedagogues, such as the prestigious 1970s buxiban teachers Hsu Chen-liang and Chang Chin-wen, affirming the decades of educational work they contributed and expressing the hope that one day, when exemplary teachers are listed on Teachers' Day, buxiban teachers will have a place too. It's a pity that not everyone is able to view buxiban culture in this way, especially those parents with children about to come of age, who must together face the pressure of the joint entrance exams.

Four years ago, Yin Ping, the author of the book Running Away to New Zealand, published in a newspaper supplement her grievances against the present-day "harsh buxiban culture." At the time, her child was attending a middle school in the Taipei area. Starting from the winter vacation of the second year of junior high, some parents joined together, rented an apartment, bought desks and chairs, and invited the best teachers from every department of the school for all-around extra "academic nutrition," cramming until nine o'clock every night. At first Yin Ping refused to make her child take part. But by third grade, under pressure from the school's teachers to keep up with the rest of the class and to "push the level of accomplishment" (all the other students were already enrolled in the buxiban, and they had moved the homework ahead of schedule), this mother who had always opposed late night cram sessions had no choice but to put her child on the buxiban roster.

Finally, for her children's education, Yin Ping emigrated to New Zealand. Her book Running Away to New Zealand, written principally to examine the problem of education in Taiwan, remains to this day on the bestseller list. It is quite evident just how many people in society share the same woes! Nevertheless, attendance at buxibans continues to irresistably rise.

Just as the range of subject matter at buxibans has expanded greatly, the style is constantly changing as well. The old model, wherein parents took the initiative to invite outstanding teachers of every subject to meet in a secret place and, throwing together a few tables and chairs, "help guide our children," still exists today, but it is only the most bare-bones approach. Today far more buxibans hire well-known teachers full-time, and set up shop near schools, using an image of professionalism to recruit students. And the small classes of the past that had a few dozen students have given way to large classes of two or three hundred.

Buxibans are increasingly professional. They offer everything from single-subject lessons that treat specific weaknesses, to generalized courses that bone up on everything. Whether you're preparing for junior high, high school, vocational school or technical college-no matter the age level or subject, the marvelously resourceful buxibans seem to be fully prepared with their own secret recipe for success.

If only you're willing to walk in the door, they'll take you wherever you want to go-"graduate school, public or private university, evening college, junior college...." Even after you have graduated from university or graduate school, there are still all kinds of career-training buxibans that will help you cross over to a new profession, prepping you for the national civil service exam, TOEFL, overseas university entrance exams, qualifying licensing examinations, and even specialized tests for journalism or the foreign service. Welcome, one and all.

The boulevard of youth?

Besides the professional buxibans spread throughout every neighborhood, Taiwan has even developed a "Buxiban Boulevard" famous far and wide. Nanyang Street, near the Taipei Train Station, is the prime landmark of Taiwan's "cram culture." This street is renowned not only in Taiwan, but also internationally. Not long ago, BBC television reported on math education in Taiwan, and Nanyang street was featured on the program.

Chou Ming, director of Julin Preparatory School, located on Nanyang Street and boasting fourteen years of history, points out that in the 1970s, nowhere else in Taiwan did buxibans specialize in testing into university. Many students from central and southern Taiwan either could not test into university or could not manage to get into the department they longed for and therefore left their homes and made the long trek to Taipei to polish their academic prowess. At that time many buxibans dedicated to testing into university started congregating in this area, because at the time the rent was cheap, and it was near the train station. Up to the present day, the image of young people disembarking from the Taipei train station after August and September of every year, carrying big suitcases, faces fraught with concern, searching for Nanyang Street, has entered the collective memory of many people.

"If a shop sign falls down on Nanyang Street and hits ten people, nine of them will be cramming for entrance exams." This may very well not be a joke. Today, because rents have increased in the area and because of its proximity to the train station, many fast-food restaurants, clothes shops and supermarkets have been added to Nanyang Street, but what still dominates the scene are buxibans and the quick and convenient businesses generated by their presence, such as cafeterias, fruit stands, diners and private study halls. The safety and hygiene of Nanyang Street's buxibans and related service shops, and the psychological adjustment of the students, are often the focus of news reports.

"One wave of the Yangtze pushes the waves that came before." One generation of newcomers replaces the old. As buxibans march into the prosperous 1990s, the reality of "brutal cramming" may still exist, yet on the face of things, what the buxiban industry is saying is, "Turn cramming into a kind of entertainment!" Buxibans have certainly changed!

The post-Nanyang-Street era cometh

Postmodern people, young, old and in-between: If your stereotype of the buxiban is a little room with tight little seats, a cramped, filthy toilet, and a teacher with a voice raspy from exhaustion, well then, you're unquestionably behind the times!

The accredited buxibans of today are most particular about "an impressive big building, brand new equipment, ergonomically designed desks and chairs, restroom facilities better than a five-star hotel's, a ceiling made from fireproof material, and lighting that 'surpasses US federal standards.'" Besides all this hardware, the pedagogical methods carefully maintain an overall appearance: The lecture is written by a panel of experts. There are special instructors to correct test papers and essays. Students sign in with magnetized cards, and automated telephone inquiry systems are available so that parents can immediately know whether their children are absent from class. Test reports are graded by computer, so students can know their progress as soon as they have finished their test.

Keeping pace with improvements in equipment, buxibans also pay great attention to packaging, taking enormous pains to produce a warm, intimate image.

During the summer holidays, one jiajiaoban (a buxiban founded by a single teacher) located on Hangchou South Road and famous for its star teachers, especially rented a tour bus to pick up students at pre-arranged locations, so that they could conveniently attend the school's demo presentations and classes. Throughout several torrid days, in front of the doorway to the brand-new building housing the jiajiaoban, pedestrians passing by could often see a spectacle such as this: streamers lined up in a row, emblazoned with the name of the school, "Buxiban X English," "Buxiban X Math," and young people lined up in two queues on either side, wearing T-shirts advertising the school. Why did those streamers flap in the air, arrayed as if to welcome honored guests? No need to ask-it was to lure new students.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when the buxiban industry had not developed to its current level, it was mostly public school teachers who taught buxiban classes. These after-school classes could first of all increase teachers' incomes. Furthermore, they were more flexible in terms of the progress levels expected and the teaching materials which could be used. As one buxiban educator observes, "To put it not so nicely, you had more latitude to voice opinions about current events, or slightly 'off-color' humor, that you couldn't express in public schools."

Most importantly, nearly every "big-name teacher" in the buxiban business had a set of gimmicks to sort out major points and condense the teaching material. They were able to arrange textbooks' important details into compartmentalized lectures. Using all kinds of special techniques like "association" and outlines, they could actually ram the crucial points of exams into the students' brains, and as an extra, they could spin off terse and witty jokes. These were the makings of a "star teacher." For this reason, in the context of that era, which highly prized a teachers' renown, "brand name" was of course the first consideration. For example, having teachers who had taught at Taipei First Girl's School or Chienkuo High School, or were graduates of a prestigious school like National Taiwan University (NTU) or National Taiwan Normal University became the focal point of buxibans' advertisement campaigns.

Today, every joint entrance examination is graded by computer, and prestigious teachers' methods of summarizing and arranging material "are definitely effective on the test." Chou Wei-han, who tested into NTU's medical program this year, says, "They more or less teach us how to order the knowledge in the textbooks." Nonetheless, after the test is over, "whether this 'dead knowledge' is of any use, I don't know!" he admits.

A star is bred

Eventually, education agencies dedicated themselves to "nabbing the buxibans," setting down strict regulations that teachers employed in public schools could not teach supplementary classes on the side. Therefore, buxibans could no longer dare to openly use public school teachers as calling cards. This is why the focus for attracting students shifted toward flaunting the rate of successful entrance exam passage, through such methods as concentrating on equipment and facilities, or aftersales service (for example, instructors may be available after class to help answer test questions or edit essays). Senior buxiban teacher Hung Chung relates that in 1987, one Taipei buxiban utilized a tactic common among real estate companies-they trained a large number of recruitment personnel and part-time student workers and sent them to places frequented by young people, such as department stores, using "human wave" tactics to draw in students. This was the very inception of the buxiban marketing strategy that has prevailed ever since. Currently, most buxibans' market methods deviate little from this paradigm.

"Recruitment personnel are more important than teachers," was once the lament of buxiban educators, but in the midst of such fierce competition, the most reliable credentials are word-of-mouth endorsements, like "They teach better," or "They make test scores go up." The buxibans of the 1990s therefore seem to have returned to their original path, but what is different from the past is that two out of three successful teachers "have never taught class formally," says Chiang Chun, a young buxiban teacher. The vast majority of these "star teachers" are usually lured into teaching buxiban classes while in college or upon graduating. Because "they enunciate crisply and teach in an interesting manner, and the students like them," Chiang says, they linger in the buxiban world and become career buxiban teachers. His wife, Ruby Hsu, is one example.

Also different from the past, many of these successful teachers of the buxiban world have been cultivated by the buxibans. "They are nurtured along like movie stars," says senior teacher Tseng Cheng-ping. For this reason, they should be young, vivacious and also attractive-most men are handsome and debonair, most ladies pretty and extrovert. To put it another way, besides being able to teach well, other exterior requirements for "packaging" are also important.

Thus, even star teachers' names are being designed. Besides being graceful and refined, they must have a clear, lovely ring to them. The trend is to be evermore similar to some character from one of Chiung Yao's romantic novels-Chen Li, Kuo Yang, Hsu Wei, Chu Chih-mo, Tu Yun-tien... Some buxibans even put teachers' faces on posters, photographs and drawings, hanging them high in front of the buxiban door. In advertising campaigns, they are made into fabulous superstars, even appearing on the sides of buses or on cable TV. A teacher may have an image built up as a good joke teller, an exercise buff, or a kind parent with a baby in her arms, all to make a sale.

Preparatory school, or fan club?

People in the buxiban business all say that they are making an accommodation to the trends of the time, adopting emotional appeals and catering to the needs of parents and children. LCC Preparatory School director David Lin points out that middle school and high school students all more or less have the tendency toward hero worship; so, packaging teachers as celebrities is simply giving the students what they want. But for many adolescents, peer pressure plays a crucial role; many middle and high school students are unconcerned about other considerations. "My classmates come here for study, so I come here too," says Huang Chun-chieh, who was accepted as a high school freshman this year. But "chit-chatting about whether the buxiban teachers are good looking, what kind of clothes they wore today, or what kind of pretentious jokes they told, how weird the laughter was..." helps relieve anxiety and makes them feel comfortable while toiling under an intense load of studies. Even in regular school, the classmates that go to a certain buxiban will congregate in a clique. For instance, when solving math problems, the "Buxiban A" group and "Buxiban B" group will naturally fall into teams. To David Lin, this is proof that in buxibans, children are studying not only their homework, but also "social interaction."

This may also explain the abnormal phenomenon in today's buxibans, especially in jiajiaobans that make celebrities of the teachers, of classes ranging between 100 and 300, or even as high as 600 students. The buxibans' explanation is that "the more people there are, the more robust the business." David Lin relates that they had tried classes of 40 or 50 students. But as it turned out, business was not good, because "as far as the kids are concerned, whether or not they really want to be there, attending a buxiban is only a kind of 'rite' they are obliged to perform, either for their parents or for themselves." Lin observes that what children like is "the feeling of nestling among others, surrounded front, back, left and right." English teacher Ruby Hsu believes that in terms of English lessons, big numbers are better than small numbers, because "you have to memorize English by rote, and a lot of people can recite together in a loud voice, making the atmosphere of class more energetic."

How does one hold a class of five or six hundred? This is certainly a good question. The classrooms have become bigger and bigger, some buxibans even claiming to have "the biggest classroom in the world." They have also ingeniously divided the classroom into several sections. The earliest to sign up get to sit in the best section-this in turn becomes another sales point. It projects the same feeling as a Michael Jackson concert-those who are too far away to make out the teacher's face study via the "assistance" of simultaneous television broadcast. This is called the "audio-visual section." In like manner, students have jokingly named the area opposite the audio-visual section, where one can actually see the teacher clearly, the "rock-and-roll section." And at registration time the human wave can begin queuing up at 5:30 in the morning, just for the rare chance at a seat in a special area.

Where are today's children to go?

How can a buxiban recruit so many students? Teacher Tseng Cheng-ping avers that the crux of the matter lies in the method of recruitment. Today most buxiban sales personnel are or have been students of the buxiban. Using their own network of personal connections-relatives, friends, neighbors and classmates-just like a pyramid scheme, one person can bring ten others to the class. Whether the kids are calling others on the phone to invite them to demo classes, hanging out "helping make the place look busy" or looking after younger students, from their point of view, a "part-time job" at a buxiban is relaxed, there's no time restrictions and you can, as they would put it, "goof off." With the money they earn, they can watch movies or shop. Why not go for it?

A more important question is, during their free time out of school, if these kids don't attend a buxiban, where can they go? High school freshman Huang Chun-chieh says that he signed up and listened in on buxiban class because he was worried that once he started high school he would have a hard time keeping up with most subjects. "If I get a little extra practice, I'll feel more assured," he says. Furthermore, at home, "when there's nothing to do, there's nothing to do. If I go to a buxiban, I can bump into my old classmates and meet new ones. There's more stuff to do there."

Buxiban teacher Michael Kao believes that nowadays, as both mother and father are busy, a buxiban is unquestionably a place for kids to go outside the home which parents can trust. Kao jokingly remarks, "At least they won't be watching TV, playing video games and opening the fridge like they would at home. Then they would have fights with their parents, and it would be bad for family relations." Not to mention, in terms of school work, buxibans can certainly help children build confidence. "Everyone says we're just 'force-feeding the duck' [cramming the students with test answers], but I would rather say, 'Practice makes perfect.' This is especially true when it comes to test results." Moreover, if children run into difficulties in their studies and torment their parents with them, it might not be unwise to let a buxiban act as their "agent." When looked at in this perspective, aren't buxibans actually performing a social service, indirectly solving many people's family problems?

Where now, buxiban?

Isn't it just so? Urban life is full of both blessings and pitfalls. Parents have become busy. What if the dream of "giving students back to their families, giving youth back to students" were to come true? Once you have students and their youth back in your hands, what are you going to do with them?

And take a closer look: "Buxiban X's Heart-Parent's Heart"; "We understand the feelings of parents, and protect the feelings of children"; "Don't worry, don't fret-Buxiban Y will help you get your confidence back"; "Help your child find a pair of straight, reliable shoulders"; "Buxiban Z keeps the last light burning for you".... National Chengchih University professor of advertising Cheng Tzu-lung comments that buxiban advertisements have already moved far beyond the simple sales tactics of the street-side hawker. Just like car ads, they have come to stress "company image." But in terms of contents, buxiban ads can hardly avoid reflecting the realities of contemporary society: A parent's heart, confidence, shoulders, a light... In today's Taiwanese society, how many familial functions can parents morally justify paying money to hand over to buxibans?

Looked at from a different perspective, aren't the ideals which buxibans put forward-worshipping prestigious schools, stressing school ranking and star teachers, hunting out new buildings and high-tech, computerized equipment-really the societal values which all of us struggle for? For many years now, the well-known teacher Ruby Hsu has driven a Toyota sedan. Her students sometimes laugh at her, saying, "Teacher! How can you drive just that?" The children mean no harm by the statement, but it reveals a great deal about society's values. From young people's point of view, successful buxiban teachers have high incomes; fine clothes, good food and a luxury car are all musts! In other words, this is the image of success. And don't they study and study so that they can pass that test, whether for high school or university, to "make a name for themselves in one fell swoop," and then have a bright future and an easy ride?

It's all for the sake of-education?

Many people wonder if in fact there aren't many other incentives for the massive presence of buxibans in Taiwan besides the joint entrance exams. According to statistics of the Ministry of Education, in the present day 1,130,000 people, or one in every twenty of the population, attend buxibans every year. The fact is, you need not refer to Ministry of Education statistics; just take a look at little Ah Hua or Ah Hsiung next door. How much time do they spend every week in buxibans? Kids who "polish their studies" four days a week, not counting Sundays, already look harried and weary.

Of course, you can also flaunt convention and emigrate just like Yin Ping. But will you really be able to completely escape buxiban culture? One prestigious buxiban math teacher posted an advertisement in the Mandarin Daily News. One student he had taught before saw the ad overseas and gave him an international phone call. "Teacher," he said, "do you want to immigrate here and teach? We've already found a bunch of students here. We could start classes immediately...."

As Asian values have recently come into vogue in Europe and America, education is one of the aspects most highly lauded. British experts have discovered that Taiwanese children's mathematical abilities are two years ahead of British children of the same age. Many have therefore called for abandoning small-group education in favor of large classes, Taiwan style. At dinner time, a camera of the BBC focuses in on a group of buxiban students on Nanyang Street. (They appear to be lined up to buy noodle soup with oysters.) An off-screen voice emotionally comments: This is Friday night. What are the students queuing for? ...education!

As one might expect, Confucian culture has many different aspects, and buxiban culture is likewise very broad and deep. Could it be that those close at hand are repelled, and those far away are attracted?

p.25

In the 1990s, more and more students attend exam-oriented buxibans. Class rooms are constantly growing larger in size, equipment constantly improving. Have we entered the age of "recreational cramming"? Why exactly do they attend?

p.26

It appears that the changes in buxiban culture have been enormous, but in some places it has changed little over the decades. Nanyang Street, crowded with buxibans, has already become a landmark of Taipei.

p.27

Not long after exam results were posted, this student moved into a buxiban dormitory, devoting himself to the fierce competition of next year's joint entrance exam. In our society, are entrance tests really a gauntlet of life or death?

p.28

Come one, come all! Have a ride on our tour bus. Where we're going is not a famous scenic spot-it's a buxiban. This is one of the many creative ways supplementary schools attract new students.

p.29

Is cramming a form of entertainment? In the past buxiban students came laden with a big book bag. Today, they carry a travel bag and a basketball. Even if you're late or skip class altogether, it doesn't matter-the video cassette recording will help you.

p.30

Seven living buxiban advertisements-NTU med school candidates. The benefits which the buxiban gives them are free tuition for a whole year while they study to retake the exam, free housing and a guidance counselor to help them solve problems both academic and personal. Buxibans unabashedly display today's social values and worldly ambitions.

p.31

"Even though my child has gotten into NTU, I think she should be able to get into the medical program. I entrust her to you; take good care of her." ...One scene at a buxiban after the joint entrance exam.

p.33

For thousands of years, Chinese students have striven to "finish first in the imperial exams and receive employ as a high official." What the buxiban provides are merely the tools to achieve that end. (rephotographed from Chinese Popular Prints)

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