Teachers need merit-based support: experts

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Vietnam's efforts to renovate and globalize its education system must go together with better policies that make teaching a more rewarding job, experts say.

Teachers need better remuneration and training opportunities so that the profession is more attractive and carries better prospects, they said at a two-day international workshop in Hanoi earlier this week.

Titled "Policies for teachers and educational leaders in an innovative education process," the workshop was organized by Vietnam National University-Hanoi's University of Education on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.

Associate professor Le Van Hoc, vice chair of the National Assembly Committee for Culture, Education and Youth, said Vietnam spends about 20 percent of its annual state budget of approximately $US20 billion on education.

Currently, the country has about 1.5 million teachers at all levels with an average monthly income of VND2.1 million, which forces many to seek other sources of income like teaching extra classes. The resultant overload leaves the teachers with little or no time to modify and refine their teaching methods at school, the workshop heard.

Many good high school students shy away from pursuing education majors as they fear low salaries and bad working conditions.

Associate professor Nguyen Thi Mi Loc, president of the University of Education, said many countries have come up with national policies to recruit and retain good teachers, including offering scholarships and financial incentives to those seeking to become teachers, linking universities and local schools to provide effective student teaching experiences, and having programs that counsel new teachers on developing their professionalism.

Loc said the University of Education at VNU-Hanoi is applying a model of a well-rounded teacher as an innovator who is also active in the community activities and has the ability to teach future students soft skills that are crucial in the 21st century.

Loc suggested giving more autonomy to schools in terms of recruiting, hiring, and paying good teachers. She also called for remuneration to be merit-based and not merely on the number of years spent teaching at a particular school.

Lee Little Soldier, professor emeritus from Texas Tech University, said that in the US, school administrators and teachers are hired at the local level by school boards elected by community members and licensed by individual states to teach within that state.

Salaries for teachers at the elementary and secondary levels generally is based on a published salary scale and is not affected by the level of the teaching assignment, Soldier said.

Soldier, who has visited Vietnam about 30 times since 1993 and is a regular speaker at education-related forums in Vietnam, said schools in Vietnam are gradually taking a more student-centered approach and curricula have been revised and improved.

However, they must adopt new approaches to seek additional funding, such as partnering with businesses, communities, industries and NGOs, in order to implement policy changes, she said.

Vietnamese educators continue to rely heavily on lecturing as the main teaching strategy and institutions have not paid enough attention to in-service training, which can help teachers acquire the latest knowledge and methodologies, she added.

The system has to produce teachers who can help "students find meaning, relevance and applications for lessons and generate excitement for learning," she said.

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