ESL jobs in Taiwan in an Era of Demographic Change

As strange as it may seem, the history of Taiwan has a profound effect on the availability of ESL jobs in Taiwan today. Indeed, in many ways the country is victim of its own success. Between 1900 and 2000 the population of Taiwan increased from 3.04 to 22.3 million. Since the mid-1980s, however, population growth has fallen below replacement levels [2.1%]. After a mid-century high of 3.68%, by 2010 Taiwan’s population growth was less than 0.2% – the lowest rate ever recorded in Taiwan.

Although this decline is doubtless attributable to the country’s economic successes – the decline in fertility begins at the same time its economy experienced its greatest growth – these trends have a profound implication for those who wish to teach English in Taiwan. According to government figures, in 1980 a little less a third of the population was below the age of 15 and less than 5% were over 64. It is exactly this youth bulge that led the high demand for English language education (and therefore abundant supply ESL jobs) in Taiwan.

Some 30 years later, in 2010, the implications of the low birth rate are clear: only 15% of the population is below the age of 15 and more than 10% above 64. This is a dramatic and precipitous decline; as recently as 2000 children and adolescents made up more than 21% of the population. At this rate the population of Taiwan is expected to begin to decline as early as 2020 and ESL jobs in Taiwan will never be the same. In fact, in the face of declining enrollment many schools are already being forced to cut back on their English language programs and will doubtless continue to do so. Even if these trends are slow they are important considerations for would-be English teachers. Teaching English in Taiwan is no longer as easy as it used to be.

Market Profile: ESL schools in Taiwan

English language education usually comes in one of two forms: public or private. Major ESL centers like South Korea, Japan, and even China follow this model and, for the jobseeker, this means opportunity comes in two forms as well: employment through government-run schools or for-profit providers. As we at ESL Directory have often noted before, however, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Despite being consistently voted one of the most lucrative (and popular) places to teach English as a Second Language, the Taiwanese ESL market is different. Indeed, unlike many of the other popular destinations in East Asia the vast preponderance of ESL schools in Taiwan are privately run. This can have dramatic implications for those seeking to teach English in Taiwan.

English education, driven by its high regard and the economic strength of Taiwanese parents, starts early. Very early. The bulk of private ESL schools in Taiwan are designed to cater to children and preadolescents from 6 to 12 years of age and usually come in the form of buxiban or “cram schools”. Because most of their clients are enrolled during the day in school (be it public or private) classes rarely begin before 3 or 4pm. Of course there are many teenagers and working professionals also interested in improving their English proficiency but the sheer number of children enrolled in such programs means that almost any buxiban position will entail at least some classes catered towards children.

Thus, if teaching children – or edu-taining in general – isn’t for you, you may want to look carefully before you apply to any ESL school in Taiwan. At the same time, if you enjoy children then a position in Taiwan may be the perfect fit for you. After all, many people believe that the well-earned reward of a child’s smile is the most satisfying thing in the world – and the same might be true, too.