Teaching Vietnam preschoolers on computers raises concerns

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     A boy uses an interactive whiteboard at a pre-school in HCMC

Some pre-schools in Ho Chi Minh City have equipped themselves with "interactive whiteboards," prompting mixed opinions from teachers, parents and education experts.

When the new school year began early last month, Binh An pre-school in the city's District 2 announced it had bought an interactive board for VND180 million (US$ 8,533), according to Tuoi Tre newspaper.

Half the cost of the board was paid for by the government, according to the school, and the rest will come from the pupils' parents via a VND15,000 ($0.71) per-month fee.

Of course, some parents are upset they will have to subsidize the cost of a tool the school will have forever but their children may only use for a year or two. Others are questioning the plan for it's feasibility while others say it could help give students a technological leg-up.

An interactive whiteboard is a large interactive display that connects to a computer. A projector projects the computer's desktop onto the board's surface where users control the computer using a pen, finger, stylus, or other device. The board is typically mounted to a wall or floor stand.

A woman identified only as N., mother of a pupil at Son Ca pre-school in Phu Nhuan District, said the school will charge each pupil $0.71 per month for the interactive whiteboard system.

"The school will use the interactive board to teach English. But my kid isn't taking the English class, so why do I still have to pay for the board, not to mention that the school hasn't even announced when it will begin using the new tool."

Instead of investing in in interactive boards, the school should spend money on toys and practical school supplies, she said.

Le Hoai Nam, deputy head of the HCMC Department of Education and Training, said the use of interactive boards in HCMC pre-schools is a step towards modernizing schools in the city. He said it would help familiarize them with modern educational tools like their peers in other countries.

Who pays, who benefits?

The cost of installing the systems was originally supposed to be paid for in full, but city authorities declared they didn't have enough money so state funds are now only paying for half.

Nam said interactive whiteboards at preschool could be used to help teach kids about almost everything, from the natural world to the shapes, colors,  songs, poems, English and games.

Pre-school teachers in the city are now all familiar with computer use so the task of preparing a lesson plan using interactive boards is not a hard one to do, he said, adding that the city Department of Education and Trainings will open a class to train teachers on how to use the system properly and effectively.

Vu Hai Quan, deputy head of the HCMC University of Science, said he disagreed with the policy of using interactive whiteboard in pre-schools, even elementary school.

Quan said much needed to be examined, tested and analyzed to see the negative and positive effects the system could have on students.

Other problems related to the use of the system, Quan said, are whether it is effective to digitize children's entire education program. He wondered if teachers would be able to effectively transfer the content of their lessons to the new program. He also mentioned that power cuts, technological problems and software errors would now add to the list of concerns teachers would have to worry about.

CEO of Microsoft Vietnam Vu Minh Tri said the price of interactive whiteboards was too expensive for Vietnam's pre-schools and to use it in such settings was "lavish." He said pre-school kids should play with toys and learn from real things.

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