Vietnam ministry plan to create haves, have-nots in public schools slammed

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A teacher at a "˜VIP' class in a Hanoi public school uses an interactive board

A proposal by the Ministry of Education and Training to charge students extra for "quality" classes in public schools has come under fire for creating a rich-poor gap.

The ministry said public institutions from the kindergarten to high school levels are encouraged to get donations from students to improve education quality.

The model classes created with this money would serve as a foundation for authorities to fix fee levels to ensure "quality education" in public schools, it said.

Hanoi education officials said at a meeting in August last year that this situation has already existed for long at many schools.

Nguyen Trai Primary school in the capital's Thanh Xuan District, for instance, has two classrooms with wooden flooring and modern teaching aids amid old, poorly-equipped ones.

The two are for first-grade students, and the luxuries were paid for by the children's families. It had cost more than VND300 million (US$14,400) at the beginning of the school year in September to paint the classes and install the floors, lights, air-conditioners, new desks, and other equipment.

They also have interactive boards that cost nearly VND168 million ($8,000).

The mother of a student said she had to pay VND5.5 million for the boards besides VND2.4 million a month for extra English classes and extra meals at school. Around VND2 million equals $100.

The mother of a student in one of the other classes said it is hard to explain to her child who keeps asking why she cannot study in the beautiful, air-conditioned rooms. "I do not know what to say to make her understand without being hurt."

The difference is even starker at school meetings in the yard every week when children from the two classes sit on chairs while others have to make do with plastic tools.

"I watched the scene once and almost cried out of pity for my kid and anger at the school," one indignant parent said.

Parents of kids at other primary schools in Hanoi said they have been asked to pay up VND3-3.5 million so that their children can benefit from "interactive" classes. The money is apparently required to buy a laptop for the teacher, an interactive board and a projector.

The primary school tuition in Hanoi is VND180,000-360,000 per school year.

"Whoever disagrees with the new tuitions will have to move to another class," the parent of a child at Trung Trac Primary School in Hai Ba Trung District said.

Le Thien Tam, whose son studies at Chu Van An Secondary School in Ho Chi Minh City, said if schools build more classrooms and reduce the class size, then any class would serve the purpose of improving education quality.

The ministry's plan has also been panned by former and current education officials alike.

Prof Pham Minh Hac, former education minister, said: "Children are asked to wear uniforms so that there is no rich-poor difference, so that no matter how they are dressed outside, they will be the same and equal in school.

"So the existence of expensive and cheap classes within a public school is really offensive."

Prof Tran Xuan Nhi, former education deputy minister, said children who cannot get into the luxury classes "will feel inferior."

Tran Thanh Duc, director of education in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang, said individual donations to schools need to be completely voluntary and serve a large group of students, instead of just some.

Schools should not take money to install an air-conditioners in one class because students would not understand why some classes are cool and the others are hot, he said.

"But if a person donates money to tile the entire yard, we will be happy to take that since it will benefit all children alike."

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