Teaching English in VN: requirements and other information
Video source: Alex Stevenson
Video source: Alex Stevenson
It’s a “flop”, Tuoi Tre called it in a headline, or a “failure” according to another headline in VNExpress. In 2016, it was described as “unrealistic” by Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha.
They’re talking about Vietnam’s National Foreign Language Project—or, as it’s more commonly known, Project 2020—the education initiative meant to bring all of Vietnam’s high school students to an intermediate level of English by graduation. Less than 20 percent of students have reached this level.
Project 2020 dates back to 2008. It was proposed as an ambitious plan with one central goal: “by the year 2020 most Vietnamese youth whoever graduate from vocational schools, colleges and universities gain the capacity to use a foreign language independently,” according to the official language of the initiative “Teaching and Learning Foreign Languages in the National Education System, Period 2008 to 2020”.
But in 2016, Nha addressed a collection of government heads and education officials warning that the project still had a long way to go in its four remaining years.
An article in Tuoi Tre stated that some Vietnamese teachers had cut corners on the testing required by Project 2020, or opted to learn at centres that had developed a reputation for slack grading. Nha announced in the meeting that teachers would be retrained and the number of authorised centres that could provide these English teaching credentials would be narrowed down.
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That year about half of English teachers in Vietnam were reportedly substandard according to the requirements of Project 2020.
While the project’s core goals centre around English proficiency, in 2016 many students were still lacking access to regular English language curriculum. Around 20 percent of elementary school students were receiving four periods of English a week. The goal is to have 100 percent of third-grade students following a 10-year English language program by 2020.
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At that point, the project had a VND10 trillion (US$446.43 million) budget.
Thai Nguyen University built a basic communication English language capacity into their graduation requirements. As a result, 2,000 students failed to graduate on time at the Thai Nguyen city university. The delayed students gave the university heat. As a result, the school lowered the language standard.
Research shows students may need up to 400 hours of training to move up one rung in the CEFR ladder. Thai Nguyen University lowered their standards in part because their undergraduate curriculum only included 100 hours of English training, Professor Dang Van Minh explained to Tuoi Tre in January.
Students have criticized Project 2020 for placing too much emphasis on grammar training and not providing enough opportunities to practice listening and speaking. “Two English lessons per week and too many students in a class do not allow us to practice,” Saigon University student Nguyen Minh Tri told Tuoi Tre.
The project appears to come at least in part from the extreme interest Vietnamese have in the English language. In 2014, researcher and author Christopher Candlin described the country’s zest to become anglophile an “English fever” in his English language teaching review “Language and Development: Teachers in a Changing World”. Sending school children to English language centres early to get them an early head start on their language acquisition is almost de rigor for Vietnamese families.
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In spite of the pronounced shortcomings of the 2020 Project, English language advocates are building new educational initiatives around it, such as the HCMC-based plan to begin English language learning in the first grade starting in the 2018 academic year. In the current academic year, 91 percent of students in the city have begun English classes since the first grade.
Nevertheless, Saigon’s Department of Education and Training Head of Primary Education Nguyen Quang Vinh complained that the quality of the teachers was inconsistent and said his department would begin making sure foreign language centres are integrated into every school’s activity.
Vinh noted that the schools still had difficulties filling their foreign teacher vacancies because of inadequate salary offers. During the 2017 academic year, the school officials recruited 1,797 teachers, who filled 70 percent of the available foreign teacher slots.
Only 40 percent of the recruited teachers meet the Ministry of Education training standards.
Over parents’ objections, Saigon will slowly phase out foreign teachers in city schools over the next few years.
By 2020, the city plans to train 400 Vietnamese teachers to replace their foreign counterparts, according to reporting by the Vietnam News Agency. There are currently 100 primary school teachers undergoing a four-phase training program required to pass an assessment crafted by UK’s Pearson Education, the program administrator. Over 300 teachers applied to be part of the program.
Parents angrily commented that their students would have limited or no interaction with native English speakers.
Do Minh Hoang, an official with HCMC’s Department of Education and Training, said the Vietnamese teachers would be able to deliver similar or better results compared to the current foreign teachers. Education officials responded, noting that fees would be reduced when the switch to Vietnamese English teachers is complete.
Thuong Nguyen, a researcher with National Chengchi University in Taiwan, presented an analysis suggesting the project was not a doomed to failure. In a paper titled “Vietnam’s National Foreign Language 2020 Project after 9 years: A Difficult Stage”, Nguyen argued that simple changes like updating teaching methods from basic “teacher asks, students respond” routines and introducing new curriculum could prove fruitful in changing the narrative around Project 2020. Nguyen’s research involved observations of several Ho Chi Minh City high schools, a handful of which are currently meeting the foreign language initiative’s target goals.
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Mistakes even smart mothers make, and what to do instead
After 17 years of being a mom and a paediatrician, I've been able to learn a lot about discipline from my own experiences, as well as from other parents. While there are all sorts of possible blunders here are five biggies that most of us are guilty of - and ways to avoid these common mistakes...
This one's not surprising: The bookstores are teeming with manuals, each touting an expert's best method. Friends and family love to tell you what worked for them and there is definitely something appealing about the simplicity of a one-approach-fits-all strategy. But some children freak out when you speak to them sharply, while others are unaffected. Some learn the first time you tell them something; others need so much repetition, you despair of their ever learning. Some listen right away; others need time to scream it out before you can talk to them. And it's not just temperament; it's age and development.
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The job of a toddler is to push limits, to do crazy stuff that you've told them time and time again not to do. The job of a tween (roughly ages 8-14, who are “between” childhood and teenage years) is to start asserting their independence from you, sometimes in obnoxious ways. And neither one is going to listen to a big lecture.
A toddler is going to need simple, direct, quick discipline. A tween is most likely to respond to a punishment that removes her from her peers. But despite your best efforts, both the toddler and the tween are likely to keep doing the same “bad” thing for a while. Understanding where they are in life is key to picking the right approach to discipline, and preventing desperation (yours).
My husband does this a lot. He metes out punishments that are either more reflective of his mood than the crime or thoroughly unworkable, like saying "You have to stay in your room this afternoon" when he has errands to run and needs to bring the kids with him. The punishment should fit the crime, not your frustration level. And it needs to be something feasible, that doesn't overly affect siblings who've done nothing wrong.
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A friend taught me a great trick. If one of the kids is doing something they shouldn't - being mean to a sibling, for example - I say, "There will be consequences." (It's particularly good to use in public, because while it may strike fear into your kids, it sounds pretty benign). Over the years, it's been shortened to "Consequences!" with the appropriate firm-but-not-yelling voice, furrowed brow, and I'm-totally-serious gaze. If the misbehaving child doesn't stop, there are consequences, but I have a moment to think about them.
Sometimes I'll ask, "What do you think your consequences should be?" It's interesting how often kids come up with a fair punishment (e.g., apologizing and letting the wronged sibling play with his favourite toy for the rest of the day).
We've all been there. Little Jake is throwing sand at everybody within reach from the sandbox, and the responsible (I'm using the word loosely) grown-up is saying, distractedly, "You're going to get into trouble if you don't stop doing that." And little Jake keeps right on heaving sand because he clearly knows his mother isn't going to stop him. Sometimes these types of kids are punished, but they're not bothered by it. Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating harshness. But for a punishment to work well, I explain to parents, it needs to be something your child doesn't want to have happen again.
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In our house, taking away favourite toys (the length of time varies with the gravity of the offense), sending the kids to their rooms (our variation on a time-out), or losing screen time (computer and/or TV) generally works. So does "No play-dates for X period of time" and, for the teenagers, "You're grounded!"
Once you've said no to something, like "No throwing sand," you have to continue saying no. You can't give in sometimes ("Well, okay, you're having fun and nobody seems to mind getting it in their eyes"). Kids get confused and pick up quickly on the fact that they have, well, latitude.
Since you don't want to say no to everything, pick your battles and decide what's really important to you. In my case, I'm not so concerned about neatness, but I won't tolerate meanness, lying, or anything violent or dangerous. Once you've decided on your rules, set them clearly and stick to them. The other part of this is follow-through. If you take away your child's TV privileges for the day and then give in while you're making dinner because you don't want him underfoot, he'll figure out pretty soon that there's a good chance he may not get punished if he decides to break the rules.
When you've got a kid who has trouble with rules, it can make for a really difficult relationship when all you seem to do is reprimand. The solution is to catch your child being good. If she goes a solid 15 minutes without picking on her sister, she should get kudos. Even if it's only five minutes, try your best to notice it. You'll be surprised how effective this can be.
It's human nature to like praise, and to want to please the people we love. This can work for you in other ways, too. As you enter a store, instead of saying, "If you don't behave, I'll be really angry and won't get you a treat," try saying, "We have to get the shopping done, and I need help. If everyone is good and helps me, we'll stop for ice cream on the way home."
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Think about it. Which would you rather hear? It's not a bad idea, actually, to ask yourself variations on that question often. What would you rather hear? How would this make you feel? Granted, you're a grown-up, and would probably need to be told only once not to bite. But asking yourself questions reminds you that your kids aren't just crazy beasts put on this earth to make you insane (although it feels that way sometimes) and that discipline isn't just about keeping order. Discipline is about keeping our children safe and helping them grow up to be kind, successful, happy adults.
This article was kindly provided by our friends at SmartKids. For more informative articles on Childcare visit www.smartkidsinfo.com
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The prioritization of education has been a core feature of Vietnamese culture for centuries, and now the Southeast Asian country is opening its doors to foreign-owned entities providing public education for its aspiring academics.
Australia’s own Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) was established at the turn of the millenium in Ho Chi Minh City and was the first foreign-owned, public university to open in Vietnam. Professor Gael McDonald told Sinh Vien Viet Nam Newspaper last December, “Some of the key achievements in this area have been the introduction of authentic learning, reduction in examinations, a move away from textbooks to more contemporary materials, professional development for staff… with the mission to focus on delivering world class internationally recognized postgraduate degrees in Vietnam…”
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With a staff of academics from 25 countries around the world, RMIT engages in community outreach and has an increasing student population hailing from provinces outside the urban centers of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
This year, Fulbright University Vietnam will open in Ho Chi Minh City.
The original Fulbright program was launched over seven decades ago as a means of establishing closer diplomatic ties between the United States and countries around the world through the promotion of education and cultural exchange.
President Barack Obama praised the university during his visit to Hanoi in 2016 saying, “It is the first not-for-profit, independent university in Vietnam - which will bring academic freedom and scholarships to underprivileged students. Students, academics and researchers will focus on public policy research, governance, business, engineering and computer science, liberal education - everything from the poetry of Nguyen Du, the philosophy of Phan Chu Trinh to the mathematics of Ngo Bao Chau …”
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Fulbright University will open its doors in the fall of this year, promising a new and innovative approach to higher education in Vietnam, while engaging in community outreach and offering need-based financial aid to qualifying students.
At its inception, Vietnam’s educational culture was largely influenced by Chinese systems, particularly Confucianism. Confucian ideals dictated that although man is at the center of the universe, man is a social being, and finds his (or her) highest potential realized in community with others. Within this potential is the ability to be educated, and as such, education should be accessible to all. As community is important in Vietnam, education is seen as being not only a way of the advancement of the individual, but as a way of cultivating the kind of character that will help uplift his or her community.
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Former leader Ho Chi Minh decided when Vietnam gained independence from France on September 2, 1945 that the government’s three biggest priorities would be “fighting against poverty, illiteracy, and invaders.” His philosophy on education was guided by the principle that “an illiterate nation is a powerless one.” In October of that year, he issued a “Call for anti-illiteracy.” The nation responded to the call by creating 75,000 literacy classes with 96,000 teachers in order to teach 2.5 million Vietnamese to read and write.
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Vietnam has long been known as a country and a culture that consistently keeps an eye on progress. Throughout history, the Southeast Asian country has borrowed and integrated ideas about ways of living from influential societies, from the neighboring Chinese, to the French who formerly colonized it.
The opening of foreign-owned public learning institutions in Vietnam marks a paradigm shift in the country’s policies towards education. With the world’s eye on Vietnam as an emerging economy, it is sure to continue to attract foreign interests.
Vietnam is emerging as a bona fide market for educational investment, and its consistent desire for quality education is sure to be instrumental in its rise towards becoming a middle-income country, as it cultivates the minds of global-minded scholars.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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".
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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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“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.
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.
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.”
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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.
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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.
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“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.”
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.
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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?
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.
“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.
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“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.”
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.
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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”.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.”
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.”
Image 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
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