Int'l school tuition hike hits students
by Nguyen Le Hung
|School daze: Students celebrate the new school year at the Renaissance International School Saigon. Tuition at int'l schools across the country went up by an average of 10% this year. — VNS Photo Trang Duong|
Huynh Thanh Quang, a 48 year-old merchant, has faced many tough decisions in his life, but none as hard as pulling his only son, Huynh Minh Tu, out of the United Nations International School (UNIS), one of the most expensive high schools in Ha Noi, just two years prior to his starting college.
"I don't want to, but I have no other choice," said Quang. "Tuition for this year is VND420 million (US$21,000), which is 11 per cent higher than last year." Quang said that despite the fact his family was wealthy in comparison to others, they had been struggling to pay for his son's education. They couldn't possibly afford another 11 per cent, especially in the current economic climate.
"You need to have at least a few billion dong in the bank if you want to keep your child in an international school." Quang said, "The past two years has been tough economically, we have had to ask for loans from relatives to pay for tuition."
Officials from the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) agreed with Quang. "MoET only has a small say in the international - as well as private school curriculum. Tuition is not our responsibility; the schools decide how much they are going to charge. If parents decide to send their children to one, they must be sure they are financially able to do so," said Bui Hong Quang, deputy head of MOET's planning and finance department.
Advanced education and care
N.T.H, a celebrity who wished to remain anonymous, also sends her nine year-old son to UNIS. Unlike Quang, she has the financial capability to sustain her son's international education. "I'm happy sending my son to this school. It's nice to know that he receives international standard education in his home country where I can still keep an eye on him," she said.
"I'm not criticising Vietnamese education. Many students from state-run schools have gone on to win international contests in many subjects. But I'm not raising my son to win contests, I want him to have fun and be sociable and successful in whatever he chooses to do in his life," she said. "I believe an international education will give him the opportunity to do that".
International schools like UNIS, VIP and Alexander Yersin offer students educational environments similar to those found abroad. The VIP school campus, for instance, is in The Manor luxury apartment building. The UNIS campus is in Ciputra, and includes a pool, tennis courts, a small stadium and a fully equipped gymnasium.
The curricula are based on the most recent updates from developed nations such as the US and France. "Students can also participate in various extra curricular activities including visits to museums, attending art classes and so on", said Chris Vincent, UNIS middle/high school principal.
Internationals schools also make more of an effort to involve parents in their children's education. "We recently held three-way conferences, which were important opportunities for parents, teachers and students to lay the foundations in terms of expectations and communication associated with studying", said Vincent. "Our school code of conduct is C.A.R.E, which stands for Co-operation, Achievement, Respect and Empathy, which I think says it all," he added. UNIS has recently started to offer Parenting Skills courses for parents, which is a considerable breakthrough in the Vietnamese education scene. The courses have since received great appreciation from parents.
However, the most enticing offer that Vietnamese parents look for when sending their children to an international school is that they will be surrounded by foreign teachers and friends, so that they can learn to use different languages (usually English or French) naturally.
Students are also guaranteed internships at well-known firms in the city.
"The door to the future is wide open," H said. "That is, when you can afford it."
Now his son has dropped out of UNIS, Quang is faced with a new challenge: finding another school for him to enrol in.
"Tu can't go to a public school now. The learning techniques are so different and he will not have time to catch up and be ready for college in time," Quang said. The fact is that in an international school, the curriculum is lighter on theories and much more focused on practise and other activities. Vietnamese students who have studied a domestic curriculum often find the workload much easier when they study abroad. Quang fears that the exact opposite will happen to his son, which is probably true. So the worried father decided to look into other international schools in the city for his son and he finally enrolled Tu into the Ha Noi International School, where tuition fees are half as much as UNIS.
But for Dam Ngoc Minh, a 35 year-old housewife, whose son was attending Brendon International School in Trung Hoa Town, Thanh Xuan District, was not lucky enough to find a substitute school for her daughter, Vu Ngoc Ly, 14. "Last year tuition was around $5,000, this year, it is around $6,000. We can't afford it," Minh said. Unfortunately for Minh, $6,000 is the standard tuition for an annual place at an international school in Ha Noi this year, so she can't afford to send her daughter to one any longer.
"I was devastated when I received the notification of the tuition increase," said Minh, "I have to enrol my daughter in a public school this year and I've had to put her through extra classes all summer in the hope that she won't fall behind."
"It's very bad for her esteem. If she doesn't feel equal to her friends, it might leave permanent damage," Minh said.
Minh also said that she would send Ly to extra English classes at the British Council so she wouldn't lose her English language skills. "Hopefully it will be enough to help her get a scholarship to a US college," Minh said.
"More and more parents are looking to send their children to schools where they can get an international education. They are willing to pay billions of dong," said Minh. "But they really need to be sure of their financial situation so their children don't have to go through the same ordeal as my child," she added.
Phan Trong Quan, a 37 year-old engineer, has a daughter in the eighth grade at a public school in Ha Noi. He said that he also wanted to send her to an international school but would never be able to afford it. "I am willing to pay the public school 10 or 12 times as much if she gets more hands on experience at school, not just studying from text books all the time."
Annual tuition for the Ha Noi - Amsterdam school, one of the best and most respected high schools in the city is VND 540,000 ($27).
When it comes to their children's future, parents will spare no expense. Their main concern is that their children get a quality education for a brighter future, not the damage to their bank accounts. So maybe the real question here is: "There is a gigantic demand, when will the supply come?". — VNS