Alternative Ed in Vietnam is for Those Who School Differently

By: Molly Headley

“Cost”. “Competition”. “Choice”. “Commitment”. “Care”.

These words echo throughout the statements of parents in HCMC who’ve decided to take their children out of the traditional school system.

Best International Schools in Saigon

The alternative paths range from homeschooling, following a structured curriculum in a home environment, to unschooling, no school structure at home or otherwise. Parents are also selecting to enroll their children in what adherents call “world schooling”, allowing children to be educated by the world around them through travel.

Parents in HCMC are often divided into two camps: those who choose to educate their children themselves because of the high cost of private schools and those who consider it to be a philosophical decision. The concept is still new in Vietnam but a few parents frustrated with the long hours, costs, and rigidity of classic educational systems are following suit.

Cost and Competition

Khoi Nguyen began a group in Saigon for Vietnamese homeschoolers, in order to meet other parents with similar child-rearing philosophies but he soon realised that many of the Vietnamese interested in joining the group assumed homeschooling meant supplementing their children’s schooling with private tutoring. In Vietnam, educating a child at home is such a foreign concept that many people have never heard of it. Alongside his job as a computer engineer, Khoi now works as a homeschooling counsellor and educator for other parents.

Khoi didn’t start out expecting to homeschool his kids. The decision happened organically. “My wife runs a company that does exercise classes for kids from three to 15 years old. Most of her students are from international schools because they have shorter days”, he explained. “The kids in public schools are the ones who need us the most but they don’t have a chance to attend the classes. They don’t even have weekends. That’s very bad for kids.”

homeschoolingImage source: healthline.com

For their own children, Khoi and his wife looked at their choices – either going to public school or paying the high premium for private school. Neither option suited their family. Instead, Khoi decided on homeschooling with strict lesson plans. He chose the Calvert curriculum, which claims Barack Obama as an alumni. Calvert is one of the priciest online curriculums available but Khoi insists it’s worth it.

Families in Vietnam “have all of these options on the menu”, Khoi said, “this year they can pick a very high-end school but in five or ten years can they still support that fee? It’s unsustainable. They might have to downgrade and the system in Vietnam isn’t compatible”.

The cost argument is concrete. In HCMC, the average price of an international school is VND341 million per year and, according to a report by VietnamOnline, the average salary for a Vietnamese worker is VND38.4 million per year. For the majority of Vietnamese families public schools seem to be the only option. On the other hand, expat families in Vietnam sometimes feel that international schools are their only choice because the public structure may seem too foreign for non-Vietnamese speakers. However, many expats work in companies that will pay a stipend for schooling.

homeschoolingImage source: cth.edu.vn

This is the case for Kristi Cruz*, an American mom with three children. Cruz’s husband’s company offers its employees an educational allowance, yet the couple refuses the aid. Cruz, a passionate unschooler, “lives as if school doesn’t exist”. She feels her children will learn when they’re ready and that they will be more competitive in the workforce because they’ll follow their true interests.

“Technology and the world are changing so fast. Schools are already outdated”, she said. “They can’t keep up with the jobs our kids are being prepared for. Now, everyone is spending their energy learning the quadratic equation, and guess what? I have a calculator to do that for me. These days they don’t need the quadratic equation drilled into their heads.”

Kim Nguyen* was born and raised in the U.S. to overseas Vietnamese parents. After getting married she and her husband decided to move to Vietnam to start their family. As a mother, Kim finds herself in the unique position of having both Vietnamese and U.S. influences. Unlike Khoi, she doesn’t have to worry about Vietnamese education laws but she’s still susceptible to the weight of her cultural heritage, which puts strong emphasis on the importance of formal education. When Kim’s son was born she initially followed the peer-pressure of society. “We put him in school not even really thinking”, she said. “It’s just what everyone his age was doing.”

She tried out a public pre-school but Kim realized it was the wrong choice for her family. Now, Kim manages a children’s play area, which gives her the luxury of spending her day with her son and allowing him to socialise with other kids. The fact that her son has dual nationality also gives him the freedom to continue his schooling in the US later on.

homeschoolingImage source: lunatots.com

“Our boy is always curious, always asking to learn”, she said. “So far he’s able to spell a few words. To be honest, I’m unsure if he’s a genius, average, or below average for a three-and-a-half-year-old but I don’t care. I just love being part of the process. For the rest of his life he will have the stress of meeting this bar and that bar. For now I just want him to be a kid.”

Choices and Curriculums

At a kid-themed café equipped with a labyrinthine climbing structure, Kristi Cruz met up with Angee Floyd, another unschooling mom.

Like Cruz, Floyd is also American and is raising two children in an unschooling environment. Unlike Cruz, Floyd is doing it completely alone. A single mom with a degree in teaching and what she described as “insurmountable student loans”, she decided to move to HCMC to reduce her living expenses. Floyd is able to teach less and spend the rest of the time with her kids. According to both moms, having the freedom to follow the needs of their children has created a deeper family bond.

homeschoolingImage source: tonyphamnlp.com

With the shouts and laughter of her children playing in the background, Floyd clarified her choices. “[In America] I went back to work after 6 weeks. I took my little, tiny baby and I was like ‘here’”, Floyd said holding out her arms. “I paid 1,200 US dollars a month to give my child to someone so that I could go back to work and then basically work just to pay for childcare. That’s why I can’t do it.”

Therefore, the question arises: what exactly do parents do when traditional school is not part of the equation?

Letting the Child Lead

The philosophy behind unschooling is that learning should be child led. A fascination with dinosaurs might provoke an investigation into palaeontology, while the routine process of paying for something at a store can teach basic math skills. A child in a world schooling family might learn Spanish by visiting Spain. There are no rules for what or how to study. Each family figures it out as life unfolds. Just as a baby learns to speak, a child will, for example, learn to read when they’re ready.

homeschooling

“When you spend your childhood being told what to do you’re not given the opportunity to make choices”, Cruz explained. “Then you turn 18 and you’re like ‘now what’? You’re on your own. You don’t know.”

“I like [this method] because it teaches my kids how to think”, Angee added. “They ask me questions and I say, ‘How can we figure out that information’? Versus when they were in school and it was like ‘the answers are in your book’.”

In contrast, homeschoolers follow parent-guided curriculums. Anne Hudson*, a US national and mom of three, initially enrolled her older children in Vietnamese pre-school but Hudson felt the schools were too strict and that the days were too long. “It’s too much pressure”, she said.

Hudson follows two curriculums with her children, a program for her son that keeps learning fun with drawing, games and songs, and a separate method for her daughter, who has a learning disability and needs a more structured approach to her lessons. Their typical day starts with outside play from 7:30am until 8:30, followed by homeschooling from 9 until 12. Extra activities, such as music or art, are saved for the afternoon.

homeschoolingImage source: i1.wp.com

“I never wanted to be a teacher before. I was an exercise physiologist”, Hudson said. “There are some days that honestly I’m just pulling my hair out but mostly I’m surprised by how much I like it. There’s something special about it. You’re with your child and you really know the strengths and weaknesses of how they think.”

Commitment

The modern homeschooling movement began in the 1970s when an educational philosopher named John Holt launched a campaign to “do away with the ugly and anti-human business of people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves”. Initially, Holt tried to rework the codes of traditional education - rote memorisation, forward-facing classrooms, the godlike reverence towards teachers - by testifying about his theories before the US Congress, but later he decided school in any form was inutile. His resulting newsletter, “Growing Without Schooling”, increased both his followers and his sceptics.

Holt may seem like a pioneer to some and an eccentric to others, but in reality homeschooling existed for centuries before it was given an official title. The precedents for alternative schooling vary from country to country. In the founding days of America children were expected to work alongside their parents. The trend towards self-directed learning was not so much a leap forward as a look into the past.

homeschoolingImage source: ldatschool.ca

In contrast, in Vietnam skills were passed on through ‘masters’. According to a 2010 report by WorldBank, “In the Feudal and Colonial periods, teachers were seen to have more importance than parents; their position was only lower than the king.”

Edmond Yee wrote in his book, “Confucian Education: A Moral Approach”, that Confucius taught the belief that “everyone has the same potential to be educated, and therefore education should be available to everyone. Vietnam was therefore constructed to be a collectivist country, meaning that individuals are less important than the whole.” These core Vietnamese values make the alternative education concept more foreign than in a country where children were historically schooled at home because of the community’s needs.

The online resources we queried showed that out of 77 countries with published educational regulations, 41 allow for alternative education but, depending on the country, families can be subjected to strict regulations.

Homeschooling is prohibited in 30 countries and in six, including Vietnam, the law is unclear.

The Vietnamese constitution is just abstract enough for homeschoolers to fit between the cracks. According to the Vietnamese education law, “Families have the responsibility to create conditions for their members in the defined age groups to learn in order to obtain the level of universalized education”.

homeschoolingImage source: homeschoolacademy.com

Homeschooling is not specifically mentioned, nor is it forbidden. However, this loophole doesn’t mean homeschooling families are free from difficulties. Once a student is taken out of public school their placement in the system is effectively ‘frozen’. Online courses are not recognised by the government so a child who wants to re-enter school will have to return to the grade they left. In addition, there is no homeschooling equivalent to a high school diploma in Vietnam. Children without a diploma cannot pursue higher education in Vietnam. The options are therefore narrowed down to going to university in another country, trade school or starting over in Vietnam. Vietnamese families who choose alternative education have to be fully committed to seeing it through for the long term.

The Dark Side of the Debate

Homeschooling has recently become a subject of controversy because of the case that shocked the world: In California,13, supposedly homeschooled, children were found to be brutally neglected by their parents. Cases such as these are few and far between but lawmakers are now demanding more oversight of children educated at home. Many countries have already installed rigorous checks of homeschooling families.

homeschooling

In Vietnam, children also slip through society’s cracks. “The government tries to encourage kids to go to school but obviously not every child in Vietnam does”, Khoi said. “You go to the streets and you see children everywhere. There’s no real law.” However, even if parents aren’t breaking Vietnamese law by schooling their kids at home they are breaking tradition and they are subject to intense judgment as a result. All the parents interviewed, whether expats, overseas Vietnamese or locals, spoke of the pressure from the outside world and especially relatives.

“My mom is probably the biggest critic about what we’re doing”, Angee said. “[Her] main concern is how will they go to college? How will they get a job? If they choose to go to college there are a hundred pathways to do that. In fact, a lot of unschoolers and homeschoolers outperform kids in traditional schools all the time.”

Yet, even within the alternative schooling community there can be divided camps. One homeschooling parent mentioned knowing “some [older unschooled] kids who haven’t started reading yet. How does that happen? Once they’re reading there’s a lot of stuff that they can do. But they need those basics.”

What do the statistics say? In a survey for Psychology Today of 75 adults who’d been unschooled as children, the adults described “dealing with others’ criticisms and judgments of unschooling, some degree of social isolation and social adjustment” as being their biggest challenges. However, for 72 of the 75 respondents, “the advantages of unschooling clearly outweighed the disadvantages”. 62 % of these adults went on to pursue higher education in some form and the majority were employed at the time of the survey.

homeschoolingImage source: constant-content.com

Regardless, of the debate about whether or not alternative education programs are successful, Vietnamese families have an added difficulty – most of the available curriculums are in English. “My family is not an English speaking family”, Khoi said with a sigh. “That’s the biggest challenge. I try hard but it’s only me who can follow the curriculum. Most of the families I talk to can’t get past the English gate”.

For other parents the biggest complaint is a lack of time. One parent has to be available to guide the children. It’s difficult to pursue a career at the same time. However, most families feel the sacrifice is worth it.

“[The judgment] doesn’t bother me”, Kristi said. “I’m very comfortable being a mom. People ask what I do and I’m like “I’m a mom” and I’m good with that. People act like it’s not good enough but children have rights and choices. You have the choice to pursue your career but when you choose to be a mother you have a responsibility to be a mother too. Children have the right to have a present parent.”

Care

Nellie and Gavin, American parents of 3.5-year-old Lucy, have lived in HCMC for 7 years. When Lucy was diagnosed with severe hearing loss the couple looked into their schooling options in both America and Vietnam, and even tried a private pre-school in D2, but in the end they decided on homeschooling.

“Lucy is a completely developmentally normal kid; she just needs special attention”, Nellie said. “I went to the US and I looked at the schools there … I was impressed with the deaf schools but the mainstream options … it’s like … who cares? Who actually cares about my kid? I do. But does anyone else really care when a student might be the difficult student? You know, the one who can’t hear the instructions so isn’t following. So in the end it’s up to you to figure out what your child needs.”

For parents of children with special needs individualised care has added weight. Anne’s daughter has an auditory processing issue -- she struggles to process information as it comes in. Angee’s daughter started getting test anxiety when she was in public school to the point that she started having panic attacks and refused to read anything.

“Even though their former teacher was a good teacher she couldn’t see the issues that I could see from observing”, Anne said. “There are 14 other kids, so the teacher can’t keep her eyes on one kid that closely.”

Nellie, Anne and Angee all feel that despite the general stereotype that care is not as extensive in Vietnam as in the States they actually have a stronger community and more affordable options in Vietnam. “There’s also a great community of homeschoolers here”, Nellie said. “We always have things that we can do.”

homeschoolingImage source: blog.edumall.vn

However, the fact remains that Vietnamese families, even those with special needs children, may have a harder time making the decision to stop traditional school. “International parents have less pressure”, Khoi said. “For the Vietnamese, the pressure is enormous. It’s everywhere. People in general just don’t understand what this thing is.” Yet, he holds out hope that education in Vietnam may be in the process of changing. “Right now there are some voices in the Ministry of Education starting to talk about homeschool”, Khoi continued. “They demand that we open up the system. I think in 5 years things will change. If they don’t we’ll be left far, far behind.”

Regardless of what happens in Vietnam’s scholastic future, families choosing alternative education have one thing in common -- they believe they’re doing what’s best for their children. As Kristi put it, “It’s a lifestyle. And school will not add to that lifestyle. It will take away.”

*This name is a pseudonym

Banner Image source: daycon.com.vn


Teaching English in VN: requirements and other information

By: City Pass Guide

Video source: Alex Stevenson


Is the American Dream Turning Canadian?

By: Keely Burkey

When Truong Nguyen (called simply ‘T.’ publically) decided to attend high school in America in 2001, his reason was simple: “I wanted to live the American dream.” He added he felt a bit of pressure from his parents, who encouraged him to complete his education abroad and gain his citizenship in the foreign country.

Is the American Dream Turning Canadian

Funding his first year with an international scholarship, Nguyen and his parents paid for the rest of his high school career themselves. After graduating, he went on to complete a BA in computer science from the University of Louisiana. He said he liked the culture of the South.

“I found a job in San Francisco working for a startup and I got a company to sponsor my [H1B] visa application,” he said. “But it’s hard. You have to stay in the same job for three or four years before getting a green card, and if you switch jobs, you have to start the process all over again.”

As an engineer in Silicon Valley’s quickly rotating startup community, sticking to one job wasn’t feasible or realistic. “When I moved to Canada, the process was a lot easier. It’s just a lot better.”

As Vietnamese youth become sought-after students in the international education system, concerns like the difficulty of the application process and new visa laws start to matter. Is the American dream becoming the Canadian dream?

canadianImage source: instinctmagazine.com

Getting Savvy

As Christopher Runckel, America’s first diplomat to Vietnam after the war, told us, “In some markets, like the United States +and Canada, the recruiter is basically trying to recruit the kid, but here [in Vietnam] they’re trying to recruit the parents, and they’ll often choose the programs the kids will go off to.” For parents, the decision has many factors at play: safety is typically the number one concern, though price and prestige also enter into the decision-making process.

Chi Thuc Ha, the Director of University Counseling at American Education Group (AEG) says that family ties also play a strong role. If the future college student’s uncle lives in Texas, chances are parents will feel more comfortable if their child attends the University of Dallas rather than Cal State.

While these factors undoubtedly play a part, more and more often Ha says that the parents are changing, not just their kids. “[P]arents are a lot more savvy now,” she said. “I think in the past, especially with the EB5 [visa], they were just focused on where they had put financial and economic roots. [...] Now they’re trying to find what’s the best fit for their kid.”

canadianImage source: brookings.edu

According to the Vietnam Department of Statistics, almost 130,000 Vietnamese students studied abroad in 2016, and almost all of their tuitions were self-funded.

It’s a student group that could bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to a country during each four-year education cycle, not counting higher education after college.

Universities have caught on to the potential windfall; hundreds of university representatives come courting to Vietnam’s major cities every year in the hopes of swaying kids and parents towards their schools. At the Global Education Fair coming to HCMC this March, for example, representatives from 13 countries will be present, all ready to woo.

In particular, Canada has made systemic efforts in their immigration and education system to appeal to a broader range of international students, and their efforts have been paying off.

canadianImage source: ibb.co

Enter Canada

Although Ha works primarily with students focused on American schools, she has seen a dramatic shift in interest. “It hasn’t been until the last few years that students have been like, ‘Hey, by the way, can we also apply to these other countries?’” And because Canada’s application process runs a few months after most colleges in the United States have sent their acceptance letters, she sees many students opting for Canadian applications.

Is the American Dream Turning Canadian?

“Almost every student I have this year submitted an application to McGill and Toronto,” she said.

The proof is in the numbers: According to statistics from a survey put out by “Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada”, students from Vietnam studying in Canada have risen dramatically: in December 2016, the survey cited a 55 percent year-on-year student increase, second only to India’s 57 percent. Compare this to the United State’s more modest 5 percent gain in the same period.

canadianImage source: duhocacura.vn

However, this accounts for almost 5,000 Vietnamese students in Canada, still a paltry sum compared to the around 22,000 studying in the US.

Runckel says the increase doesn’t have so much to do with the schools, but with the government. “I’ve seen an increase in interest in Canada this year in particular. And a lot of that’s because they changed their immigration law.” Making the immigration process easier has made Great White North more welcoming to students and immigrants, just as the United States have been shutting their doors increasingly tighter.

Getting the Right People

How to make Canada more appealing to Vietnamese students? It starts with the application process. According to Deren Temel of University World News, in 2015 Vietnam was ranked third-slowest for Canada’s study permit processing time, a major factor as a student makes plans for his or her future. In response, two programs have been started to increase the efficiency of Canada’s application process: the Canada Express Study (CES) program, an 18-month program launched in 2016, and the Study Direct Stream (SDS), which will be officially on line in March 2018 and will focus on post-secondary college applications.

Both programs are similar on paper, and work to accomplish the same goal: to make the transition from Vietnam-based application to Canada-based student as quick and effortless as possible. The system requires less financial documentation and has a faster visa processing time than traditional methods, and all forms and documents are easily accessible online.

Eligibility for the fasttrack are relatively simple: an IELTS score of 6 or above is one of the several conditions, along with an investment of CAD$10,000, to be deposited to Scotiabank, Canada’s national banking chain, which will be used by the student during their first year abroad.

So far, the changes have made a positive difference for the northern country’s educational goals. Speaking from the Consulate General of Canada’s office in HCMC, Consulate General Kyle Nunas said that the changes have made a large difference: now that the process is easier, over 50 percent more Vietnamese applicants are choosing to apply to Canada than two years previously.

What’s more, completing education in Canada gives that student credit in the country’s point-based permanent residency application program.

canadianImage source: youinc.com

A complete education gets the aspiring Canadian resident up to 30 points, almost half of the 67 points currently required to live in the country legally.

“The point is to have more people come into the country, but to have the right people come—skilled, smart, experienced,” Runckel said. This is in direct contrast to the United States’ process, which encourages students to stay on a student visa and then return home after they gain their degree due to the U.S.’s difficult immigration process.

For Consulate General Kyle Nunas, the changes work to make Canada more welcoming to a wider group of people. “We’re a nation made by immigrants, after all,” Nunas said.

Unintended Consequences

As Canada makes efforts to accommodate new residents, immigration and international laws have been tightening since President Donald Trump has stepped into office, and even before. “I think we’ve done more to lose some of the good will that we’ve with some countries in the last year than we’ve done in any one-year period in our history,” Runckel said. He said the the policy changes have had unintended victims, like small colleges who previously depended on international students as an important source of revenue.

For Vietnamese citizens hoping to move to the United States after college, the H1B visa has made a concrete difficulty for their plans. Multiple people we talked to agreed it’s getting harder to nab one of the visas, especially with the current lottery system in place.

canadianImage source: cdn-images-1.medium.com

Hillary Huong Vu, a video animator who attended Missouri State University from 2012 to 2016, said that during her time in the country, the increase of anti-immigration sentiment became palpable, both socially and in the government. “I personally didn’t experience anything huge,” she said, when trying to recall instances of racism directed against her. “It was just little things, like people talking slowly because I have an accent.”

Vu’s worst experience came at the tail-end of her time in the U.S., when a man approached her on the street loudly asking her if she was from China or Korea, and telling her to go back to her country. “It was scary,” she said.

Hate crime incidents in America have gone up over the past year, from 5,800 in 2016 to more than 6,100 last year, according to FBI statistics. Ha at AEG says it’s unlikely any safety concerns would affect a Vietnamese family’s decision to study or move to the country. “For most families that I work with, that’s not something that they really see, primarily because as Asians we’re not the primary target [...] when people talk about anti-immigration,” she said.

Vu agreed, saying simply, “I don’t think Trump has any affect on the students that go there to study. If they find a program, they’ll go.”

“And I would just say, ‘Be careful, choose wisely.’ It’s not bad if you’re comfortable with it.”

Banner Image source: pakmen.com


In Vietnam, French Consul Seeking To ‘Reinforce The Links’

By: Jesus Lopez Gomez

When Vietnamese doctor Duong Quang Trung traveled to France to be trained in advanced medicine in the 1990s—one of the first of what would become thousands of French-trained Vietnamese doctors—he forged a strong rapport with a French doctor Alain Carpentier and was struck with a bold idea.

Why not bring Carpentier directly to Vietnam?

The partnership had already yielded tremendous results. According to French Consul General Vincent Floriani, in the past few years alone nearly 3,000 Vietnamese doctors have completed the French physician training but this reverse exchange would create a valuable new health asset in Vietnam. The two physicians partnered to created The Heart Institute in 1992, a medical organization that offers cardiac surgery services with support from France’s national health system. To date, it’s been a critical resource for over 4,300 young patients, many of them impoverished.

Video source: Emmanuel Hubert

“These sorts of initiatives are great”, Floriani said discussing the Heart Institute. The French state’s position is that there ought to be more of these types of projects. Consequently, Floriani said he sees his role, as the lead representative for France’s presence in Saigon, as one of finding and brokering new partnerships. “The job of the diplomat is to prepare the ground to make that possible”.

A Real French Education in Vietnam

Nearly six centuries have passed since France ruled Vietnam as a colonial power, but the European state remains actively involved in a wealth of initiatives in Vietnam, including education and language acquisition on top of healthcare.

From supporting local schools to cooperating with French education organizations in Ho Chi Minh City, the French government has remained an active part of Vietnam’s growth.

Today, there are 13,000 pupils who are studying in schools teaching French curriculums, from the doctoral level all the way down to preschool. These schools report to a governmental body that ensures compliance with French education standards.

There are a total of five primary schools that currently offer this type of French education. Two secondary schools, Lycee Francais International Marguerite Duras in Ho Chi Minh City and Lycee Francais Yersin, are offering pupils the chance to continue their education in an educational environment that accords with French education standards. And these schools “are about a third of what [students] would pay at other international schools,” Floriani said.

french consul educationImage source: greenshoots.edu.vn

In addition, there are a number of schools that offer a French immersion program to students studying in Nha Trang, Can Tho, Da Nang and Saigon.

Floriani said the overwhelming number of students in schools offering French education are expatriates—the French national population in Vietnam has steadily grown by between 15 and 20 percent the last few years—but “it’s something I want to improve,” he said.

In the Saigon high school, around 15 percent of the student body is Vietnamese, Floriani said. In Hanoi, he said about 40 percent of the students are part of the local population. Floriani said bringing more Vietnamese representation in to the student bodies of both would increase cultural exchange and enhance the relationship France has with an important partners.

An Unwavering Partnership

France’s continued involvement has at times put it at odds with another prominent partner: the U.S.

The relationship was chronicled in depth by Henrich Dahm, a researcher for the Institute of Asian Affairs, in his book “French and Japanese Economic Relations with Vietnam Since 1975”.

After the end of the American War in Vietnam in 1975, the U.S. and Vietnam maintained no economic relations. A trade embargo created in 1964 on all trade activities was extended until Bill Clinton took the office of U.S. president. Citing Hanoi’s help in locating military personnel that were still missing in action, he ordered the lifting of the trade embargo in 1994. Yet vestiges of the embargo remained through the current era. It was only in 2016 that former U.S. president Barack Obama lifted the ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam.

french consul educationImage source: cdn.cnn.com

Through the freeze and subsequent thaw, a number of countries including France remained active partners with Vietnam in fostering international cooperation.

Even after the invasion of Cambodia when international partners lobbed criticism against Vietnamese leadership in 1975, Dahm writes that France remained committed to keeping the trade and diplomatic relationship active. It used its continued influence to bring an end to fighting between Cambodia factions and Vietnamese forces through an accord signed in Paris in 1989.

Long before Clinton chose to lift the U.S. trade embargo, France had been advocating for the integration of Vietnam into the global financial community. The U.S. consistently blocked France in their efforts at the International Monetary Fund, voting against measures that would bring economic relief to the region like refinancing the nation’s debt.

With Clinton’s decision to lift the trade embargo, France was able to move forward leading a plan to refinance the nation’s US$140 million debt. France led an 11-nation group that repaid about half the loan in Vietnam’s stead and won the country a loan with better terms.

According to Dahm, French aid to Vietnam has made it a top donor with aid concentrated in education, cultural enrichment, communication, water supply, sanitation, transportation, energy, economic management and human resources to name a few critical resources..

In 1993 when the doctor training program was conceived, French grant aid to Vietnam was about US$44 million, an increase of US$10 million from two years prior and nearly US$30 million from four years prior.

In return for their work, Dahm’s study found that French companies benefit from the aid, which is tied to large purchases of French goods and services. In return, the Vietnamese government has welcomed French companies seeking support for business deals in the country.

The work building connections continues today. In March, the French education ministry kicked off a five-day intensive French language course in Ho Chi Minh City for adult students. Students attending represented 12 countries in the Asia region.

The event is part of a broader celebration of formal relations between Vietnam and France. This year marks 45 years since leaders formalized diplomatic cooperation between the two nations.

Developing French Fluency

French assistance in Vietnam has included cultural exports like newspapers and films, as well as language training. In 1994, a cultural appreciation and language program aimed at young Vietnamese students began. It has since worked to develop a fluency in French sufficient to study in the University of Science and Technology in Hanoi, an institution jointly run by Vietnamese and French governments, other university-level programs taught in French or for some students the opportunity to study in France itself.

french consul educationImage source: dantri4.vcmedia.vn

Currently, some of that work is continuing with the Institut d'Échanges Culturels avec la France (“Institute of Cultural Exchanges with France”), which works with Saigon and Hanoi’s local Vietnamese population to foster French cultural awareness and train them in the language. One of the necessities for French citizenship is a minimum French language requirement. When the French Consulate is approached by Vietnamese interested in getting French citizenship or seeking to study in France but lacking the language requirement, Floriani said he directs them to the Institute.

Ripple Effects

The French state has also for years cultivated a presence in Vietnam. The partnership has yielded dividends for not only the country itself, but also neighboring nations.

In 1993, a formal partnership between France and Vietnam was created to bring working Vietnamese doctors to France to specialize in a range of disciplines including surgery, pediatrics and anesthesiology. Floriani said some of the French-trained Vietnamese doctors went on to work with Cambodian doctors to share their skills with their regional neighbor.

french consul educationImage source: med.wisc.edu

“Vietnamese have this expertise to be able to provide training,” Floriani said.

The work the French have done in Vietnam “helps … promote cooperation,” Floriani said. That’s why he sees his mission in part as increasing participation from both parties, more Vietnamese students in the French schools, greater numbers of Vietnamese students studying in France.

“Basically, this is the job of any diplomat. Their job is to reinforce the links,” Floriani said.

Banner Image source: cms.tuoitrethudo.com.vn


What's the Most Popular Second Language in Vietnam?

By: Molly Headley

From being part of the Chinese kingdom and the French colonial state to its complicated past relationships with the U.S. and Russia, Vietnam has historically been a country crowded with languages. As a result, Vietnamese itself was only recognized as the country’s official tongue in 1945.

Today it is mandatory for all students in Vietnamese schools to follow their studies in Vietnamese but the recent influx of foreign business and tourism has increased the importance of learning other languages as well. The majority of students study English as their first foreign language with French being the reigning second.

The priority of Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) is for all students in Vietnamese schools to learn English as their first foreign language, according to Priscille Lasémillante, Attaché for the French language at l'Institut français du Vietnam (French Institute of Vietnam) . Then, when possible, they can learn a second foreign language. Today French is the foreign language the most taught after English, with approximately 40,000 students. 10,000 or fewer students study Japanese and a fraction study Korean, German, Russian and Chinese, Lasémillante said in an interview given in French.

second languageImage source: 4.bp.blogspot.com

From Tradition to Necessity

To understand the country’s dominant languages today, we have to go back to the 1954 Geneva Conference where Vietnam was officially divided through the middle. This rupture informed not only policies but also language. In the North, Chinese and Russian took precedence in the educational system, while in the South, French and English became the preferred languages. However, after reunification, the Southern languages and Chinese plummeted out of favour and it was Russian that connected the country to the rest of the Communist bloc.

Do Huy Thinh, from the Vietnamese TESOL Association, wrote that, “Russian became the dominant language, overshadowing the demands for all others in Vietnam’s early reunification".

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Vietnam found itself with a surplus of Soviet-trained professors and a sudden lack of opportunities for Russian trained students; as a result the language is barely taught in Vietnam today. In 1987, Vietnam introduced Doi Moi , the open door trade policy that brought the country onto the international stage. The resulting explosion of business, tourism and foreign investments launched a need for new languages in Vietnam and English quickly took the lead.

second languageImage source: i.imgur.com

English Arises from the Ashes

The English language was granted special authority in 1994 when the prime minister signed an order requiring government officials to learn foreign languages, with English being the primary focus. Foreign investments and influences from English-speaking countries have further solidified English as the top studied second language in Vietnam. MOET recently attempted to codify language training even more with the federal education agency’s Project 2020 initiative. Launched in 2008, the project’s mission is to advance Vietnamese students’ English to the level necessary for employment, yet as of 2018 Vietnam remains 7th in Asia in English language proficiency.

second languageImage source: marrybaby.vn

Motivation and Mobility

Today Vietnamese parents tend to push their children to study whatever language has the greatest utility.

French remains popular in large part because between 1992 and 2006, French language education in Vietnam was financed by the French government. Numerous scholarships— notably in the sectors of medicine, engineering, and law—still exist to help Vietnamese continue their studies in France, and the only Vietnamese degree recognized internationally is a French-Vietnamese diploma in engineering.

German became another contender for a second language when Goethe-Institut cultural centers were set up in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and student foreign exchanges began to develop. Japanese become a third major player through scholarship schemes intended to help Vietnamese students study at Japanese universities.

Time to Look Towards China?

English is still necessary for advancement in Vietnam and throughout the region—it is the official language of ASEAN—yet some experts warn against parents becoming too obsessed with their children becoming anglophones.

“We must not only focus on English, but also pay attention to demands of localities and grades. Besides prioritising English, we need to develop other foreign languages,” Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha said in reporting by Vietnam News. “Cities and provinces which have the necessary facilities to teach other languages should be encouraged”.

The lack of Chinese taught in Vietnamese schools may be surprising given that Mandarin Chinese is the language spoken by the most people worldwide, and it is the official language of mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore, countries in close proximity to and bearing business interests in Vietnam.

"China is the world's second largest economy,” Nguyen Thi Linh Tu, deputy head of the Chinese language faculty in the Hue University’s University of Foreign Language, said. “Learning Chinese, Vietnamese people can access a huge market in China and Chinese communities in other countries".

second languageImage source: taiwan-panorama.com

Priscille Lasémillante agrees. The Vietnamese have a super power just in front of them. China is in the process of developing a cultural cooperation with the rest of the world and perhaps Vietnam should take note, she said.

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Education Experts: Children in Vietnam Ask To Work Too Hard

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

East Asian culture is known to praise academic achievements, and we see no exception here in Vietnam. Many Vietnamese parents, especially in the big cities, are pressured by social expectations as well as their own, and are sending their kids to all kinds of after school classes. In addition to the overwhelming workload in school, children spend their evenings not relaxing and enjoying life, but participating in classroom activities and struggling to learn new knowledge.

The question that these parents and even teachers seem to ignore: will it make them high-functioning people? Or can overwork undermine children’s development?

overworkImage source: plan.ie

According to Dr. Nguyen Thuy Anh, founder of the “Reading with Kids” club based in Hanoi, being forced to learn too many things at the same time can lead to a lack of motivation in children. Seeing no purpose in learning about subjects that they are not genuinely interested in, many children start developing the habit of what she calls “getting by”: rushing to finish homework without fully understanding the meaning of what they are doing.

Parents tend to assume that education can only be conducted in the classroom, and the responsibility of educating their children lies solely with the teachers. “In fact, children can learn a lot through day-to-day activities outside of school, including interactions with family members at home and going out together with friends”, she said.

Parents can encourage and motivate their kids to study simply by talking about subjects at school, and explaining to them why it is important that they learn certain things, instead of talking only about their grades. Too much pressure on perfect grades, without concern for the child’s psychological wellbeing, can even lead to disastrous consequences, such as low self-esteem, resentment, rebellion, and self-destructive behaviors.

Nguyen said “during the developmental years, a child does not really need to cram as much knowledge in their head as possible, but more importantly, they need to learn to live”. They need to learn about the world around them, which encompasses more than textbooks and school matters, and how they can fit into that world as an individual.

Making friends with the right people, learning skills such as self discipline and self-defense, and taking up hobbies can all benefit and potentially save their life in the future, as modern life is increasingly complex. All these things certainly do not come from hours of toiling over homework.

On the bright side, educators are now more aware of the problems with overwork, and starting to incorporate more elements into the school curriculum to facilitate children’s overall development.

overworkImage source: thukyluat.vn

Dao Thi Phuong Thao, deputy head of Ban Mai Primary School, shared the school’s strategy for holistic development through a focus on five values.“We aim to cultivate these five values in our students, including personality, intelligence, capability, health, and global vision, through programs such as The Leader in Me. At school, children get to participate in a variety of fun, engaging activities rather than only learning in class,” Dao said.

On the last day of school before the Tet Holiday, students of Ban Mai Primary School gathered in the school yard to meet children’s writer Le Phuong Lien, author of a picture book about Lunar New Year, and then returned to class to write their own resolutions for the coming year. In the afternoon, they cleaned their classroom, following the traditional custom of spring cleaning before Tet. Such activities—though not explicitly academic and perhaps unusual in a school setting—are undoubtedly memorable to children and contribute to their development as a person.

Banner Image source: blog.hocmai.vn


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