A survey conducted by Thanh Nien News found that the interactive whiteboards supplied to hundreds of schools in Ho Chi Minh City since the beginning of this school year were purchased for 2.2 to 3.6 times their market price.
To make matter worse, users of the high-tech devices say they either don't know or don't want to use them.
The city’s Department of Education and Training equipped local primary and preschools with a total of 1,000 interactive whiteboards at a price of VND180 millions ($8,510) per board.
Half of the cost of the boards (roughly VND90 billion or $4.25 million) was paid for by the government and the rest came from students' parents.
The digital whiteboard is a large interactive display that connects to a computer and displays the computer's desktop on the surface of the board; users control the computer using a pen, finger, stylus, or other device. The board is typically mounted to a wall or floor stand.
Advanced International Company (AIC), a company based in Hanoi, was awarded a contract to supply around 1,000 sets of interactive boards at the highly inflated prices, Thanh Nien found.
The city’s education department could have easily purchased up to 3,000 sets of interactive boards of the same quality, according to the paper's calculations.
Moreover, if they'd used the schools’ existing equipment (e.g. computers and digital projectors) then they only would have had to buy digital boards which would have cut costs by up to six times.
In other words, the organization could have used its $8.5 million investment to purchase 6,000 sets of interactive boards for city schools.
Such a purchase would have equipped every school in the city (with more than twenty classes) with a dozen interactive boards, instead of the two they have now.
Hoang Thi Thuy Nga, CEO of the AIC company, said that the company's high prices included ancillary costs like transportation, installation and training fees.
However, leaders of Collette junior high school told Thanh Nien News that the company delivered the boards without providing any training despite teachers' request for it. The school finally hired a trainer who was busy teaching two teachers from another high school how to use the boards.
Four interactive boards have been installed at the District 3 high school, since the beginning of this year. However, none of them have been used during class time, teachers said. One of them was used as a projector to post a work schedule during final exams while the others have hardly been touched.
In an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper at the beginning of this school year, Le Hoai Nam, deputy director of the city's education department, said that the use of interactive boards in HCMC pre-schools is a step towards modernization. He said it will help familiarize students with the modern educational tools being used in countries around the world.
Pre-school teachers in the city are all familiar with computer use, so preparing a lesson plan that includes an interactive board shouldn't be such a hard thing to do, he said, adding that the education department plans to open a course to train teachers on how to use the system properly and effectively.
At a pre-school in District 5, only ten out of more than sixty teachers at the school can adapt lessons to the digital boards, all of them IT teachers.
“So they usually used the boards as projectors”, said a teacher.
Only five teachers at District 4’s Dang Tran Con Primary School were selected to attend a training course earlier this year; all of them English teachers. The trained instructors then taught other teachers how to use the boards, but not everyone found them useful or convenient.
Almost nine months later, the boards are now exclusively used in English classes.
In addition to their lack of training, teachers also complained that they didn't have the time to figure out the new gizmos due to their heavy workloads.
Three interactions per year
A recent survey conducted by Thanh Nien News of the city's pre-schools and primary schools found that few students had interacted with the high-tech boards.
NEW TOOLS REJECTED
|A tour of Thanh Nien News reporter of city schools revealed that many do not have enough room for the digital boards.
At Dang Tran Con Primary School, the management has stored the interactive white boards in the library and a meeting room used for teachers’ tasks. English students get to access these rooms to work with the interactive boards.
But the school is lucky to have common rooms for the new tools while others, such as the ones in Phu Nhuan District had to refuse the digital boards due to a lack of space. Only 28 out of 42 sets of interactive boards purchased for the district’s schools were registered by the local schools.
In District 7, only 11 out of 18 pre-schools agreed to set up the interactive boards; 21 sets of the digital tool were not received by the schools, out of 44 sets that were set aside for the district. All of the refusals cited a lack of space.
“During nearly 9 months of this school year, my students have only used the interactive board a few times, most of the digital boards are used as projector screens,” said a kindergarten teacher in District 5.
The parents who footed half the bill for the boards have complained that their children rarely have chances to use them.
“I paid VND10,000 per month, or VND90,000 a school year ($4.25). But my kid’s teacher said that they only used the interactive boards three times,” said a mother whose child studies at another preschool in District 5.
At the District 4’s Nguyen Van Troi primary school, there are 3 interactive whiteboards, two of those used for students in an intensive English program. The rest of the school (more than 20 classes) shares the other one.
Parents of the students enrolled in the “normal classes” complained that their children have had few chances a month to “touch” the digital boards.
“The boards are mostly used in English class. Mathematics and Vietnamese literature classes seldom use these boards,” confirmed the principal of a primary school in the district.
“It's the status quo in the city right now. [It is] such a waste of money if we only use the expensive boards for English classes. Moreover, how effective is [the project] if the pupils only have a few chances to interact with them during the school year?”
But even in English class, lessons are projected as Power point files, and the luxury boards end up playing the role of a digital projector. Pupils interact with the board by writing on its surface, which is the same as their old chalk board, he said.
Vu Hai Quan, vice rector of the HCMC University of Science, said he disagreed with the policy of using interactive whiteboards in pre-schools or elementary schools.
“Experiencing in a safe environment, the love of their teachers and the fun of studying and playing is the most important thing for young children, not a bunch of digital tools that neither teachers nor pupils are prepared to use.”