Vietnamese Children Study Too Much Yet Learn Little


Last year, a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Ho Chi Minh City sent an open letter to educational leaders, teachers and parents to express how she was overloaded with the curriculum at Vietnamese schools; she said she planned to speak out a long time ago but did not.

Vietnamese Children Study Too Much Yet Learn Little

An excerpt from the letter: “For many years now, my life as a student has revolved around waking up, going to school, going to extra classes and going home to do homework. And it repeats everyday.”

“My passion for learning has been fading over the years. I feel exhausted, depressed and hopeless when I think about school.”

She continued to talk about the pressure that all students like her are dealing with. The pressure caused by teachers, parents and the whole educational system. For example, Vietnamese schools usually set a target that a class must have at least 40 students ranked as “Excellent” and “Good”, and no one should be ranked “Average”.

She also criticized the current curriculum as unrealistic and uncreative with strict rules that students have to follow, not to change or question.

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“We ourselves don’t know what, why and for whom we’re studying! Studying for grades, to pass an exam, to live up to people’s expectations? Then what’s next?”

The letter went viral, drawing a wave of sympathy among Vietnamese people. Many criticized the educational system for a lack of effective reforms that could reduce the burden of theoretical lessons on students and develop extracurricular activities.

Study, Study More

One year since the letter was spread, not much has changed. According to the HCMC Department of Education and Training, 80 percent of primary school students take classes in the morning and the afternoon, and many of them take extra classes in the evening.

In June, more than 71,500 high school students in HCMC took classes in the morning, afternoon and evening before the national graduation exam.

At Nguyen Khuyen School’s branch in Tan Binh District, twelfth graders started classes at 6:30 a.m. and left classes at 10 p.m. every weekday, and from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. This was reported last year by Tuoi Tre. Insane enough?

In May, the Hanoi Department of Education and Training announced the number of slots for tenth graders in public schools, with the ratio of students selected rising to 1:3, which means one in three students taking the entrance exam to a public high school will secure a spot.

This makes the competition quite fierce. Local media reported that many students studied 16 hours a day to beat others for a spot in the schools.

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In some districts in HCMC, primary students have to attend classes at 7:15 a.m., which is too early for adults, let alone children.

It’s too much for 6 to 11-year-old children to take extra classes in the evening or during weekend, although it happens in many parts of Vietnam.

Generally, the school system in Vietnam requires students to learn facts and figures by heart. While beneficial in fields like mathematics and geometry, it suffocates creativity in other subjects.

As I learnt subjects by heart mostly for tests and exams during my schooldays, I don’t remember much of what I learnt today.

Health Risks

In June, Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi said more and more underage students have come to the hospital for mental health problems caused by studying too much.

Around 15 to 17 percent of underage students going to the hospital were treated for stress, sleeping disorders and mental disorders.

In January of this year, Mr. Dinh La Thang, the former HCMC Party Committee chief, told the education department that one of the reasons for the growing number of obese children in the city is too much studying.

“They have to learn all day [and have] no time for playing sports. No wonder I see many obese kids on the streets,” he told local media.

When will the educational system in Vietnam recognize the importance of mental health? There have been reports of students developing mental illnesses before and after exams and later on.

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Studying excessively doesn’t mean Vietnamese students will become more talented. Not much scientific progress and productivity have been made over the years in Vietnam, and things will not change until the curriculum for schools is adjusted to develop creativity and critical thinking.

I’d rather have a happy kid than a high-performing yet stressed-out kid. With the increasing number of private schools in Vietnam, parents like me now have more options than forcing children to study to get into prestigious public schools. I think children should be allowed to play and to study what they like rather than what society thinks they should study.

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