Awful conditions don't stop committed teachers in remote areas

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Thousands of dedicated teachers brave poverty, dangerous roads and shoddy facilities to bring education to the country's most remote areas

Teaching in Vietnam's more rural areas is no easy task.

Crumbling facilities often offer none of even the most basic supplies like electricity and tap water and teachers have to put chains on their motorcycle tires in order to ride the muddy roads to work. Many have to wander remote villages before and after class to convince students to go to school.

Pang Tieng Elementary and Secondary School in Lam Dong Province's Lac Duong District employs 22 such teachers on salaries of some VND2 million (US$112) a month.

School principal Ro Ong Ha Xuan said the teachers had a very difficult job.

"The school has no electricity, tap water or rooms for teachers to stay overnight, and many of them travel long distances here every day," he said.

"The teachers take turns collecting rainwater for daily use at the school. Otherwise, they have to get water from a nearby stream and carry it back on foot."

He said many teachers were from Da Lat Town or Lac Duong District, both of which were more than 30 kilometers away from the school in Lac Commune. And if the sheer distance isn't enough discouragement, most of the roads are deteriorating.

Pang Tieng physics teacher Do Hong Quang said he and his wife, chemistry and biology teacher Hoang Thi Phuong Linh, had to cover a total 70 kilometers every day.

Nguyen Van Thu, another teacher at the school, said he spent half of his VND2million monthly salary on motorbike fuel. He said he also had to put chains on his motorbike tires to pass muddy roads in the rainy season.

Thai Thi Thanh, who has been teaching at the school for nine years, said many teachers visited Pang Tieng 2 Village to pick up and drop off students due to a high number of absentees and truancies.

Unsung heroes

Nguyen Thi Minh, a teacher at Tan Duong Elementary School, said she prepared sweets as awards for students who came to class.

She said it was one of the only ways teachers in the northwestern province of Lao Cai's Bao Yen District got students to attend class.

"The children live in mountainous areas and sweets are a rare treat for them," she said.

However, she said the lure was sometimes ineffective and teachers had to visit local families' homes to persuade the kids to come to school.

"No matter how poor the teachers are, they have to save money for enough fuel to drive back and forth from the villages," she said.

Mai Anh, a teacher at Pu Dao Kindergarten in nearby Lai Chau Province, said her husband was also a teacher and they had to save chunks of their already low salaries for such visits to the students' houses.

Teachers at Long Phuc Elementary School in Lao Cai Province offer their students free lunches to retain them.

Most students traverse several kilometers of hilly and rugged terrain to get to school, and few want to return after going home for lunch.

To keep students at school and maintain the afternoon classes, each teacher contributes a little money to cook lunches for the students.

Dao Thi Thanh, a teacher at Long Phuc Elementary School, said many parents didn't allow their children to go to school in order to stay at home to look after the family buffaloes.

Thanh said the reason was that the families were too poor to hire field help.

"So I decided to help those families look after the buffaloes in my free time," she said.

Persuaded by the teacher's goodwill, many parents then began allowing their children to go to school.

Few rewards

Dozens of kindergarten teachers in the mountainous district of Huong Khe in the north-central province of Ha Tinh receive little in return for their hard work.

Many have been working hard for years in hopes of getting contracts in remote areas, where salaries are supposed to be higher than those for teachers in urban

But Tran Thi Lieu has been working for Neighborhood No. 9's kindergarten in Huong Khe District's Ha Linh Commune for 16 years. Her monthly pay began at VND300,000 and is still only VND900,000 ($50).

Other kindergarten teachers in Ha Linh Commune have also been receiving similar low salaries for years.

Nguyen Thi Hoa has been working at Neighborhood No. 4's kindergarten for 19 years while Tran Thi Lan has 16 years of experience at Neighborhood No. 9's kindergarten.

But each takes home the same low pay as Lieu.

Praise and sympathy are the only thing local authorities can offer them, said Dang Duc Minh, chairman of the Ha Linh Commune People's Committee.

He said 68 percent of the commune's households were poor, according to a survey last year.

Many of the commune's teachers are unable to receive flood and natural disaster warnings as they have no phones, he said.

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