Rice for today, hunger for tomorrow

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  Children attend the opening ceremony of the new school year at Thuc Nghiem school in Hanoi on September 5. About 22 million students entered the new 2012-2013 school year on that day, local newspapers reported. Photo: Reuters

A lot has been written regarding education in Vietnam, and I think a lot more needs to be written, but more importantly, a lot needs to change and quickly if Vietnam not only wants to survive but compete with its neighbors, if not the rest of the world.

I work and have worked in several international business schools in HCMC and although I can guarantee the high quality of the lecturers and course content, I am constantly astonished by two things which are taking most of my Vietnamese students way backwards compared to students from other countries.

First let me distinguish between two clear groups of students - those who are very motivated to study and know what they want (and who really excel in class), and those who are studying because their parents want them to and could not care less about achieving anything apart from a high score in computer games.

Family income and parents' education is also a strong factor: Although high fees are paid by students in all those schools where I teach, not all students have the same or similar family incomes. Students from low-income families that are making a huge effort to give their children a good education, sometimes even selling their home to pay the fees, do excel in class. It is the same with those students whose parents have degrees and know the importance of having a good education.

Many expatriates have written to Vietweek concurring that despite the problems they face in Vietnam, it is simply not acceptable that people direct their anger and slurs at all Vietnamese. This forum, "Your two cents", opens the floor for you, the expats, to hold forth on the changes you see in Vietnam: what disappoints, what pleases and what you would like to see happen. Email your thoughts to editor@thanhniennews.com.

Unfortunately the parents of around half of my students seem to think that they are doing enough by just paying the fees and having absolutely no involvement with what their children do or even if they go to class, they assume that once they get the degree the job is done"¦ Gaining knowledge? Not interested! When will parents realize how important family education and support is for children to achieve high in future? Interest (and anger) should not come at the end of the term when the student fails, but constantly throughout the course. Every term I teach around 250 students, but so far no parent has approached me to ask how his/her child is doing!

Another wall I have seen and faced regarding giving top education is some of the employees working in student services in different schools, who believe that they are helping them by doing everything students want to help them pass. However, they are achieving the opposite for the future since these students, though they will have a degree to show as they are being allowed to climb the ladder, will have no knowledge. So student services are de facto providing rice for today by letting them pass without knowledge but hunger for tomorrow as even though they will have a degree the students with no knowledge will not last long in companies, and not long at all in international companies, which seems to be the dream of most of my Vietnamese students.

Vietnamese students have huge potential and the gift to grow in such an entrepreneurial environment, but it is time that parents are more proactive and college administrators do a better job and leave education to the lecturers.

By Tony Houseworth
The writer is a British expat who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

'TALKED AT, NOT LISTENED TO'

Recently Vietweek conducted an interview with former deputy minister of Education Banh Tien Long which suggested that he was calling for "sweeping reform" in the Vietnamese education system. The reason for the interview and his comments was a report of a low ranking for Vietnam in the 2012 Global Innovation Index.

Sorry, but I was not impressed with his remarks.

The former deputy minister spent most of his initial response claiming that there really was not anything to worry about for the future of Vietnam as reflected in the index. Next he claimed that the shortcomings (which are supposedly not a problem) are recognized but being worked on.

My knowledge of higher education in Vietnam has been derived from my English students who are students in the system and from a number faculty I have gotten to know but it is clear that the seniority/age veneration situation that has kept young faculty from bringing new ideas to the system is still firmly entrenched.

Several years ago I read an article in the daily edition of Thanh Nien about a couple of faculty members at a university in the Da Nang area who had attempted to introduce "team teaching" using the Socratic method (questions and answers and discussion, not lectures for rote repetition).

According to the article, students were at first intimidated by the dramatic adjustment to the way they were being taught and by how and what the professors' expectations were. The teachers incorporated games and role playing in their teaching as well as expecting students to ask questions and challenge them.

After a while the students began to adjust and reported that they much preferred it the socratic style over the traditional technique. It was stated in the article that this interactive approach would gradually be adopted throughout the system.

This is the norm in Western teaching and for the record, Bill Gates has said repeatedly as he travels about the world representing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in presentations to recipients of grants from their foundation, that present day American education is failing to meet the needs of today's students in the west. So according to Gates, the kind of teaching being tried in Da Nang is already outdated!

But it is not being tried, at least not according to my sources. Students are still being talked at and never listened to.

By Richard Mckenzie

The writer is an American expat who lives in Nha Trang

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