Children must be taught basics of swimming
Last week, Viet Nam News asked its readers about their ideas on how Viet Nam can reduce child drownings, an issue of growing concern that was recently highlighted by a UN report. Here are some responses.
Two cases of pregnancy terminations in the Central Highland provinces of Gia Lai and Kon Tum have raised a controversial debate on abortion because of pre-natal screening.
The babies, who were in their 23rd week of gestation, were tested positive for Down syndrome and other abnormalities, but after the still-born were later tested, the results were found to have been incorrect.
Yes, it was a real tragedy.
Pre-natal testing and screenings have become common and regularly advised in Viet Nam, and some end with abortions.
The debate continues. Some people say abortion is always wrong, no matter what. For instance, in Japan, many children with Down syndrome still have an opportunity to live since their parents do not choose to terminate their infants. They believe the lives of children and adults with Down syndrome are steadily improving in the country with advances in medical care, better understanding of the development and education. It is also supported by the increasing social acceptance which has provided greater opportunities to grow and learn, and to participate in society.
Meanwhile, some others say it is right when the mother's life is at risk or the baby's health is uncertain.
What do you think about abortion? Is it morally acceptable to terminate a pregnancy before normal childbirth based on the results of pre-natal tests? What circumstances would be acceptable for a termination of pregnancy? Should people be allowed to decide the fate of babies with disabilities or abnormalities, just for the sake of themselves and their families?
Please reply by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 11 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ha Noi. Replies to this week's questions must be received by Thursday morning, May 31.
Graham Bassett, British, London, UK
Don't think for one moment that Vietnamese children are alone in failing to be given even basic swimming lessons. Only the other day, the news headlines were highlighting a report stating that by the time UK children left primary school, one third of them could not swim. Indeed, that third hadn't had any swimming lessons at all, despite it being a part of the national curriculum for 7-to-11-year-olds. Pretty appalling when you consider the UK is completely surrounded by water.
When I was younger, local authorities had determined that swimming pools were a waste of space and wanted to land grab and build houses on the land they occupied. Fortunately, to a degree, common sense has since prevailed. Even now though, something like 200 people die each year from drowning in the UK.
From what I saw while in Viet Nam, the cities seem to have a fair number of pools available in various locations. But are there the dedicated instructors when it comes to swimming lessons?
As to improving the situation, all you can do is make sure that money allocated to swimming lessons isn't diverted to the latest ‘must have' pet project of the school and that it is actually spent on swimming tuition. Then, and only then, will the situation improve. Of course, there isn't much point improving a child's chances of surviving in water if, on dry land, they are then involved in a serious accident with a carelessly ridden motor vehicle or killed touching a live cable.
Safety, be it at home, school or outside, has to be something that society as a whole embraces. If it finds that difficult then there isn't much point spending the money in the first place.
Lawry Bee Tin Yeo, Singaporean, HCM City
A much larger part of the world we live in is covered with water. Although it gives us plenty of food, we also have to hate it sometimes when it becomes ‘violent', and by this I mean floods and tsunamis that kill hundreds and thousands of people.
Being in such a situation and living with water around, it becomes essential that human beings have to learn to survive in water by learning to swim or keep afloat in water. Being able to swim becomes a personal asset.
A country like Viet Nam has almost 3,000km of coastline and there are also many rivers inland, so it is surprising to find that only a small percentage of the population can swim. Naturally people have to be encouraged to learn to swim for their own safety.
Swimming lessons are especially important for school children and swimming should be a built-in part of the curriculum. Competitions can be held in schools and among schools to provide interest among school children. This encouragement can even be provided to motivate people to reach national standards, if only the Government can provide some funds for it.
Viet Nam is a great country and lots of funds are expanded in many Government projects and some should be diverted to build public swimming pools which are an amenity to be provided to the public as a form of encouragement for national sports.
I learned to swim at school during my primary school days. My school held annual competitions to keep children interested in swimming. My children have also learned to swim at their schools and they can swim well.
I can still remember saving my younger brother from drowning when he encountered a problem while swimming in a river in Malaysia during an outing on the school holidays. It was lucky for him that I was around.
Le Thi Hong Nhan, Vietnamese, Ha Nam
Most children in my village, which has a river running through it, can swim at a very early age. In the afternoon during summer, we often swim together and the older people teach the younger ones.
We had no official swimming course. We used banana tree trunks to help learners float. Believe or not, a 6 year-old who can swim like a fish is quite normal in my area. I started to learn swimming at the age of 6 or 7 and then became very good very quickly.
When I came to Ha Noi to attend university, I was surprised to realise that about 90 per cent of my classmate could not swim. My university does not have a swimming pool, because I think the cost to build and maintain a swimming pool is too expensive.
Poor education and low awareness certainly pose a threat to children when they play near water without adult supervision. Parents can tell their children to stay away from danger but can not keep children away from rivers or lakes at all times. Children must themselves be equipped with knowledge about the potential threats when playing in water and taught what to do when there is any trouble.
We do not have enough money to build enough swimming pools, but we certainly can build our children's knowledge in this area. Children should be taught that the best person who can save them from drowning is him or herself.
When I asked my nine-year-old niece if she can swim, she said she was just shown some illustrations about how to swim and how to rescue someone from drowning, but didn't get to practise this of course. Clearly, it is hard to expect children to be safe near water if nothing changes.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
Learning to swim is a rite of passage for any Canadian child, boy or girl. It's hot, school's out for summer. Jump on your bike, head to the nearest swimming pool.
If you don't live in the city, you get a truck tire tube, and float down the river near town. Maybe jump off a bridge or two. No one gets caught, no one gets hurt, except (maybe) a little sunburn.
City boys go to camp and take canoe lessons. Life jackets? Mandatory! Adults who do not wear jackets are ‘not cool,' and are an indicator of a reckless person.
Drowning? No way. Just about everyone I know takes swimming lessons conducted by the Red Cross (just like taking their first aid course).
No one, and I mean no one, should die from drowning, unless they are caught upside down in a car that has plunged into a river. Every year, with alarming regularity, I read of a seven or eight or even 12-year-old kid drowning at a construction site or in a slow moving river in Viet Nam. Not only that, but sometimes people jump in to help someone who is drowning and end up also drowning!
It costs nothing, zero money to swim. Find some water, jump in, kick your feet. That's about it. Oh yeah-don't panic and don't forget to hold your breath. Bodies float, you know?
It sickens me, coming from Canada, yet vacationing in the Philippines, Thailand and now Viet Nam, when a boat over-loaded with people sinks, due to poor maintenance and indifferent safety enforcement, where people drown because of panic and not enough life jackets.
My life is precious and priceless. So are the lives of your sons and daughters. Teach them to swim. Send them off with words of encouragement.
Death by drowning? No, that's got to be a sick joke. For Vietnamese children it's a tragic, regular event. I even read in this newspaper about a remote village, where due to the collapse of a bridge (also a major problem in Ha Noi, but that's another story) the poor students were forced to swim to school each day. Twice!
There are enough traffic cops and Mercedes-Benz cars in town, but no good bridges? (Oh yes, the boat they used also sank)!
Like I said: Where I come from it's kids, summer, bicycles and swimming. Fun but never deadly.
Piet Bels, Belgium, HCM City
In Flemish and others European languages there is a saying as follows: "What you're taught young is what you do when you're old."
Looking at Vietnamese society for almost three years I can clearly see what was taught here and what wasn't (or isn't).
If you do not invest hugely in education, your children will never be able to swim. There is no need for metaphorical explanations. The answer is obvious. — VNS