Soft-skills training centers flourish without regulation

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Parents rely on dubious schools to impart life-skills


A soft-skills training class offered by TGM Corporation in Ho Chi Minh City. Lax regulation of these centers have raised concern among experts who worry that teaching these skills improperly could have detrimental effects on the young.

In recent years, Vietnam's urban parents have sought to build their children's characters by sending them to "soft-skills" centers - a flourishing and largely unregulated industry.

At these centers, children can enroll in communication and public speaking courses aimed at boosting self-confidence. Some of these classes afford children the opportunity to improve their foreign language skills, while others teach magic tricks and offer interactive lectures in physics or astronomy.

Most centers say they import curriculums and teaching methods from programs that have already been implemented successfully in the US and other countries. Some centers are now even offering soft-skills training at home - groups of three to four parents can pay one of these instructors to come and teach their children in private.

The recent increase in these centers has raised concerns among experts and educators about their legitimacy. No government agency has yet been established to assess their quality.

Several parents whom Thanh Nien spoke to said they knew very little about the teaching methods employed at these centers. Instead, they generally hand over tuition fees totaling a couple of million dong per month based on a general promise that their children will end up being "more confident."

A director of a popular soft-skills training center in Hanoi, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that some companies exploit parents who are desperate to maximize their children's competitiveness. It is hard for parents to know whether these curricula coincide at all with the foreign curriculum they are allegedly based on, he said.

Nguyen Huu Long, a professor of psychology at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Education, has studied soft-skills courses aimed at middle school students in HCMC. According to Long, teaching soft skills is important since they may play a crucial role in determining how a child grows up.

"Therefore, it's important that those centers honor their important mission," he said.

He noted that teaching these life skills improperly could have harmful side effects on a child's behavior. There's no way of knowing how some of these early experiences shape children, he added.

Nguyen Minh Hoa, a professor at the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said that soft-skills training centers lacking quality staff was worrying.

"We need to designate one government agency to assess and regulate these programs," she said. "It's important that it can make sure these programs meet certain requirements before being permitted to run."

Nguyen Thanh Hiep, head of the Vocational Division under the HCMC Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, said the companies which offer these programs must apply for operating licenses.

He added that the Ministry of Education and Training as well as the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs are responsible for assessing the quality of these centers after issuing said licenses.

Meanwhile, classes at these centers are still reserved for children from mostly well-heeled families. Those who can afford to send their children to these classes are left to determine their quality and effectiveness.

Le Ngoc Ha, a 35-year-old office worker in Hanoi, said she decided to send her nine-year-old daughter to Sunny Smiles center in Dong Da District, which offers classes in ethics and other disciplines, because it allowed her to sit in on trial classes to examine the quality.

"I was able to see whether the quality was good and whether the class was fit for my kid," Ha said. "I felt it was necessary for her to learn about honesty or self-respect in a fun and informative way."

Nguyen Van Hoc, another parent in Hanoi, said it's understandable why these centers are getting popular among busier parents who can't find the time to socialize with their children.

"There are too many things that could distract me from family time now, such as television and computers, in addition to stress at work," he said. The 41-year-old sent his eight-year-old daughter to an emcee class at a local training center.

Nguyen Thanh Nhan, director of the Southern Youth Center, cautioned parents not to be overly-hopeful that these soft-skills classes will change their children completely.

"Even if your child shows a bit behavioral progress, that's good already," he said. "It's important for teachers and parents to push them further based on that foundation."

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