Enrolling in Public Elementary School in Taipei

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Since enrolling into the public school system in Taiwan is pretty damn a bit complicated for a newcomer, I thought I’d share how we went through it with our son.

For those unfamiliar with the Taiwanese system, everything is determined by your household registration or 戶口名簿. To obtain a household registration, you need a national ID number, which is only granted to citizens (i.e., not Alien Resident Certificate holders). But as residents of Taiwan, ARC holders also have the right to schooling — so there is a bit of a loophole in how non-citizens get spots in public schools. I’ve heard that it’s more flexible in some ways (because you can try to apply to whatever school you want), but it also puts you at the mercy/discretion of individual schools.

I heard from another parent at our son’s daycare that they got a priority spot at the local (and overfilled!) elementary school based on their ARC — instead of looking at household registration, officials looked at the length of time they had been in Taiwan based on the entry/exit stamps on their passports. Ultimately this family chose to attend a private elementary school, but it was interesting to hear their experience…

Regarding our own personal case: we all started off as foreigners when we first moved to Taiwan, but we were able to get a national ID card for my son about 1.5 years ago. And we maintained his household registration in the same neighbourhood since then. I now also have a national ID card, so our household registration currently contains myself and my son. My husband holds an ARC, but we made sure that the address on that card is the same as our household’s (which is relevant later).

We live in central Taipei (the so-called “egg yolk” of the city), and our nearest school is Ren’ai Elementary, which is notoriously in high demand and has been an “overfilled” school (額滿學校) for several years running. Every year, there is a sorting process for establishing the priority list of students allowed to attend overfilled schools. Below is the process we underwent for 2020 (or year 109 in the R.O.C. calendar). Note that this applied to all children eligible to enter elementary school this year (i.e., all children who will be 6 years old as of September 1st).

1. Multiple Schools Notice (3/25)

If your household registration (and presumably the address on your ARC, if applicable) lies in a neighbourhood where more than one elementary school is assigned, then your district office should have issued you a 共同學區通知單 (notice of multiple schools in your neighbourhood) on March 25th. You need to return your choice of school to the district office within a week; otherwise a school will be chosen for you.

Since our neighbourhood (surprisingly) only has school assigned to it, we didn’t receive this notice.

2. Overfilled Schools Notice (4/13)

We did, however, receive the next notice (dated April 13th) by registered mail from the Taipei City Department of Education: 國小新生分發額滿學校「資格審查」通知單 (notice of qualifications review for overfilled elementary schools). If you fulfill any of the listed qualifications, you need to bring the necessary documents to the school between April 20-24 for examination.

There are several qualifications listed in the letter (for example, for low-income and aboriginal children), but I list here the main qualifications relating to residency:

  1. Home Owners in the District:
    • The child and his/her parents (or guardians) are registered at the same address (as of March 20th), and this address is assigned to Ren’ai Elementary School.
    • The child’s relative (within two degrees) or guardian holds a certificate of ownership of the residence, and this was obtained before December 31st of the prior year.
    • The child and his/her parents (or guardians) actually reside at that address.
  2. Renters in the District:
    • The child and his/her parents (or guardians) are registered at the same address (as of March 20th), and this address is assigned to Ren’ai Elementary School.
    • The child’s relative (within two degrees) or guardian holds a notarized lease on the residence for at least three years (as of March 20th).
    • Provide water and electricity bills sufficient to prove actual residence from January or later.
    • The child and his/her parents (or guardians) actually reside at that address.
Notice from the Taipei Department of Education regarding overfilled schools
Letter from the Taipei Department of Education

The letter was three-pages long; on the last page was a form for choosing the child’s alternate school if he/she is unable to get a spot in Ren’ai. This form must be returned to the district office before April 24, or an alternate will automatically be chosen for the child.

3. Present Your Documents to the School (4/20-24)

If you fulfill any of the qualifications from the letter, you need to bring all relevant documents to the school during the following week.

Due to the coronavirus, Ren’ai Elementary asked that parents obtain a number at the gate and return at the appropriate time, starting from 8:30 am. I got number 52, so had to return at 10:30.

Ren’ai Elementary’s schedule for examining documents (obtained from their website); they process 12 applicants per half hour.

When your number is called, you need to sign the usual “coronavirus” form (attesting that you have not been abroad in the past 14 days, are not currently supposed to be under quarantine, etc.) and get your temperature measured before entering. And of course wear a mask.

Social distancing queue inside the school. You can’t see it clearly here, but there is a glass partition separating the administrators from the parents at each desk.

The document check went by without a hitch. They checked that we all had the same address (including my husband’s ARC). They also collected the first page of the letter from the Department of Education — I’m guessing this shows that our son actually lives at that address? I’m not sure.

I must mention here that Ren’ai Elementary has a reputation of being a “top” school in Taipei (the meaning of this is relative, as the school is also known for assigning a lot of homework to children), and so is in high demand. This reputation is not the reason we wanted our son to attend this school — it’s more because he has attended daycare in the neighbourhood for 4 years now, so he will certainly know more children at Ren’ai (and accordingly we will probably know more parents there) than at other schools. With Chinese not being mine nor my husband’s native language, we would be more comfortable if we at least knew some people at the same school.

Knowing the high demand for this school, my fear is that even though we fulfill the qualifications, the school will need to further cull the list by looking at the length of residency in the neighbourhood. Since my son has only had a national ID for a year and a half, he can technically only have had “residency” for that long… (even though his previous ARC was registered in the same neighbourhood).

Since they didn’t appear to be rushed, I mentioned this issue to the school administrators. One woman looked at the date on my son’s registration and said she thought it should be long enough. They then stamped and handed me the following notice, highlighting the May 5 date.

4. Return Alternate School Form (4/24)

The form for choosing your second-choice school (改分發意願調查表) should be returned to the district office by April 24th, or else it will be chosen for you. This form was on the last page of the letter mailed to us from the Taipei City Department of Education on April 13.

5. Public Notice of Student Enrolment (5/5 & 5/13)

Both the school and the district office will post on their websites the student enrolment list (May 5), with registered mail to be sent to these students on May 13.