Teachers say archaic textbooks, low salaries and poor facilities prevent them from doing their job
Nearly all teachers in Vietnam suffer with low wages, outdated curricula and substandard facilities. But computer teachers often have it worst, even in Ho Chi Minh City.
Nguyen Thai Son, head of the HCMC University of Education's Mathematics and Computer Department, said computer teachers could barely scratch out a living on monthly salaries of just over VND2 million (US$112.54).
Son said most of the teachers would like to take extra classes to keep up to date with the latest information technology (IT) developments, but they simply can't afford it.
Teacher Nguyen Minh N., who teaches computer skills at a high school in Tan Phu District, said teaching the subject there is a waste of expertise as the lack of facilities and outdated academic programs make it nearly impossible for a teacher to be effective.
While the IT sector continues to develop rapidly, the curriculum never changes.
Computer teachers are forced to teach the same courses in Microsoft Word and Excel every year, N. explained.
He said that although Word 2007 was now the most popular word processor in the modern workforce, his students were still forced to do exercises on Word 2003.
He said his students complained they had been doing the same tests since the beginning of secondary school.
"It breaks my heart, but what can I do? I can't change the academic programming."
The teacher said another problem was that many schools often had only two small computer rooms to provide for thousands of students. Only a few computer periods are offered per week at most schools, he added.
He said he was going to quit teaching after fulfilling his three-year quota - a requirement placed on all educational training graduates - because his students just weren't interested in the subject and he had no resources with which to inspire them.
Many teachers he knew were suffering from the same problems and had the same answer: quitting, N. said.
Son from the University of Education said his school, one of HCMC's main suppliers of teachers, was admitting only 70 new math and computer students each year though it has a capacity to admit 90.
"Most computer science students want to become IT experts or programmers. Very few of them want to become teachers," Son said.
Working in other IT-related fields offers high average salaries of over VND5 million ($281.31) a month, as well the opportunity for promotion, he explained.
"Recruitment of computer teachers in HCMC has been extremely low over the last few years. The city is facing a big gap and is in trouble," said Van Cong Sang, who is in charge of personnel under the HCMC Department of Education and Training.
Music teachers silenced
And, if computer teachers have it bad, music teachers have it even worse.
Sang said the city's schools were also suffering a dearth of music teachers due to many of the same reasons.
He said schools in HCMC often had only one music teacher and that the subject was often considered secondary, with its teachers treated accordingly.
At Nguyen Van Troi Primary School in District 4, for example, the only music teacher - Nguyen Trung Chin - is in charge of 37 classes and teaches between six and seven periods a day. He is also responsible for organizing the school's musical festivals.
Despite the hardship, Chin said: "I don't want a lighter schedule. If I had one, then I wouldn't have enough money to live."
Nguyen Thi Phuong Nga, vice principal of the HCMC National College of Education, said most music major graduates have to teach at as many schools as possible, or even work part-time performing in bars, to make enough money for a decent living.
Many music teachers are struggling with this fate, while others have found no other choice than to quit and find new jobs elsewhere.