Without a pool to learn in

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Drowning deaths persist amid a lack of swimming courses

 
A mother taking her child to school on a homemade raft in the south-central province of Phu Yen

Last February, Nguyen Van Ro stepped into the hold of his boat as it floated down the So Thuong River in the south-central province of Phu Yen.

When he returned from the hold, he discovered his three year-old daughter was missing.

Thirty minutes later, a fisherman heard the sound of a crying baby and found Ro's daughter clinging to a rope tied to a boat docked some 200 meters downstream.

Most children in Vietnam are not so lucky.

Vietnam has 3,260 kilometers of coastline and numerous rivers and canals. Experts have criticized the government for failing to provide the means for schools to teach their students to swim.

Pham Thi Tuong Lai, deputy director of the Phu Yen provincial labor department, said that an average of 30 students drown to death in the province every year.

In the Mekong Delta, Dong Thap and An Giang provinces have always led the nation in drowning deaths due to their location along the Tien and Hau rivers.

In Dong Thap, 44 children drowned in 2009 and another 40 in 2010. An Giang Province lost 13 in 2009 and five in 2010.

According to Nguyen Trong An, deputy director of the Department of Child Care and Protection at the Labor Ministry, between 7,000 and 7,200 children died of accidental injuries every year. Half are lost to drowning.

Despite the high casualty rate, An lamented a high ratio of youths who cannot swim.

Last year, the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs conducted a survey that found an average of ten children drown to death in Vietnam every day.

The ministry also claimed that Vietnam's child drowning fatalities are ten times higher than those recorded in other developing countries.

Swimming alone

In 2010, the Ministry of Education and Training unveiled a five-year plan to curb drowning deaths.

Every province in the country was instructed to implement trial swimming education programs in primary schools by 2015 particularly for third, fourth and fifth grade students.

However, few provinces have managed to implement the plan, primarily due to a lack of swimming pools.

In Hanoi, many parents want their children to learn swimming but few public schools offer such classes.

Do Quang Hop, principal of the Cat Linh Primary School in Dong Da District said he'd wanted to offer swimming courses even before the plan was set into place. But there are major obstacles.

"It's impossible to take 1,700 students to a swimming pool," he said. "The nearest pool is three kilometers away. Logistically speaking, it would be very difficult to schedule such courses."

Bui Thi Van Anh, head of Cau Giay District Education Division, said there is only one swimming pool in her entire district.

The situation is the same in Ho Chi Minh City, despite the municipal education department's attempts to promote the trial project for the 2010-2011 school year.

Le Van Quang of the HCMC education department said only 20 of the city's nearly 1,000 schools have their own swimming pool.

Nguyen Thanh Hai, head of Tan Binh District's education division, said her agency has only managed to encourage schools to open swimming class.

"No school has its own swimming pool and the district sport center's swimming pool is already overbooked," she said.

Ho Xuan Vinh, principal of the Vo Van Tan School in Tan Binh District said he's finding it difficult to organize swimming classes at swimming pools despite the fact that only 30 percent of the student body has registered for the courses.

There is some hope on the horizon.

A draft "national program to prevent injuries" will be submitted to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in June. The program has set aside funds for efforts to staunch child drowning fatalities.

At the same time, the nation's nine ministries are drafting their own five-year plan to prevent drowning fatalities.

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