Cambridge spirit goes missing in Vietnam

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EMG Education Company, a partner of Cambridge International Examinations, does not play by the rules while offering the latter's programs to schools.

 A foreign teacher teaches English under a Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) program at an elementary school in Ho Chi Minh City
PHOTO: DAO NGOC THACH

With the approval of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training, EMG Education Company has introduced Cambridge International Examinations' programs in some local schools.

Students attending the programs, locally known as Cambridge English programs, each pay a monthly tuition of VND3.4 million.

But a comparison of what CIE has done at 9,000 schools in 160 countries and what is going on in Vietnam shows that the programs are applied misleadingly in two ways here.

EMG not eligible for teaching CIE programs

EMG claims on its website that "In Vietnam, EMG Education is the official authorized partner to teach CIE programs like Cambridge Primary Program, Cambridge Secondary Program, Cambridge High School Program IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education), UK High School Program AS and A level."

This is hugely misleading.

Elsewhere in the world, usually, a school would express its desire to cooperate with CIE, and the organization would assign its people to the school for surveys before they sign an agreement.

They would check among others if the school's teaching staff is competent, its management is committed enough to use the programs, and its infrastructure can meet the programs' requirements.

CIE would provide standard programs, teaching materials, and training of teachers, and organize final examinations. Since such cooperation mainly demands annual fees for enrollment and organizing exams, the tuition is not as high as EMG charges in Vietnam.

Schools using CIE programs follow this practice and all their students join the program, but in Vietnam, only students who can afford the fees do.

There are cases where a school does not work directly with CIE but through a Cambridge associate.

As an associate, EMG is supposed to act as a go-between, meaning that it represents CIE in supporting the school and organizing exams. So it does not have the right to directly organize programs, collect fees, and sell books like it is doing in Vietnam. It gives schools a 15 percent commission on all of these.

EMG is probably misleading everyone deliberately. On its website it prefixes its name to that of the schools offering CIE programs as if it owned them -- EMG Chu Van An, EMG Ngo Tat To, EMG Le Quy Don, and EMG Nguyen Du.

It uses schools' infrastructure to offer the CIE programs as if it is a real school. This is unacceptable.

By doing this, EMG has subverted the true meaning of cooperation between CIE and schools, which is to create a team of teachers capable of teaching CIE programs and to develop a school under the title of "Cambridge School." It is blatant "commercialization."

Remarkably, some local schools that already have a tie-up with CIE were refused permission by the department when they sought to offer the IGCSE program. They were advised to work with EMG or submit their plans to the Ministry of Education and Training. This merely strengthens EMG's monopoly over CIE programs in the city.

CIE program does not teach just English

If one were to ask students, parents, or even education officials what they think CIE programs are, chances are most will say they are programs to teach English language or teach the English language used in math and science. This is the second mistake. 

Thanh Nien's Bangkok correspondent reports that many schools in Thailand have also signed up for Cambridge International Examinations programs.

A spokesperson for Varee International in the northern city of Chiang Mai said the school enrolls students for CIE programs when they reach seventh grade.

The school directly contacted CIE and not through intermediaries. Textbooks for the programs are selected by the school's teachers.

In Thailand, the textbooks are supplied by at least three different sources, including Cambridge's own bookstores, Thanh Nien discovered.

CIE has comprehensive curriculums from primary to high school levels and its A levels are benchmark qualifications for preparing for university education. In other words, it provides comprehensive education, not just English language programs.

Take the Cambridge primary curriculum for example. Besides English, math, and science, students also learn how to use computers. The purpose of teaching math and science is to instill knowledge and not English terminologies used in these subjects. The two purposes are poles apart.

This becomes even more obvious when we look at the Cambridge IGCSE curriculum, which has 70 subjects for students to choose from -- including literature, agriculture, economics, and biology. There are also more advanced curriculums such as the Cambridge A level for good students.

Since CIE also applies these curriculums in English-speaking countries like Australia and the US, the program's target is not just to teach English as many mistakenly believed it to be.

Meanwhile, the target laid out by Vietnam in its 2020 foreign language program is completely different: it is primarily to help students become "fully capable of using the foreign language independently and confidently in conversations, education, and workplace in an integrated, multi-language, and multi-culture environment."

The two different targets have led to such a huge misunderstanding.

Therefore, schools that offer the Cambridge program should have worked directly with CIE to tweak the curriculum. For example, if a student attends a Cambridge chemistry class, they should be exempt from chemistry classes under the Vietnamese curriculum.

But this is not happening in Vietnam, and CIE will be astonished if it were aware of this. Elsewhere in the world, a school using CIE curriculums will just follow them and not bother teaching the same subject twice like those in Vietnam are doing.

Besides, while CIE does organize examinations and tests, for the purpose of "standardization" it suggests using the testing system of its sibling, Cambridge ESOL, which provides such certificates as Starters, Movers, Flyers, KET and IELTS.

This testing system is also used in Vietnam for students who do not attend the Cambridge program, which further puzzles parents.

Lost in a maze of curriculums and certificates written in abbreviations, students and their parents have become victims of chaotic "commercialization" of teaching English while indifferent education authorities have dodged their responsibility.   

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