An old man who knows a lot about teaching and has seen how schools work in other countries has brought ideas to Viet Nam.
He believes that students should enjoy themselves while they are learning.
Some parents are so keen for their children to be taught in this way that they go to a lot of trouble to book their children into the schools that teach this way.
One parent even got up at three in the morning to stand in a queue.
|All play and no work: Professor Ho Ngoc Dai guides his students. - VNS Photo Viet Anh
By Ha Nguyen
An older man with a gentle face, wearing a tawny jacket, walked with deliberate steps across the stage. A roll of tremendous applause thundered from the audience, accompanying his short walk to the podium.
Professor Ho Ngoc Dai, an educational psychologist, went on to make a speech which was very simple but meaningful, it captured the attention of the audience and moved many, including myself.
"We aim to create an educational environment that encourages children to go to school without any pressure," the professor told the attentive audience at the experimental school, Thuc Nghiem, which was celebrating its 35th anniversary last Saturday.
Dai is the founder of the Education Technology Programme (ETP) which aims to help Vietnamese children to access an education in which the student enjoys going to school.
ETP places students at the centre of the educational process; the teacher's role is as a conductor with the children working in concert with one another to gain knowledge.
He recognised the support he received from parents and teachers, as he once had to struggle to implement the new teaching style.
"I would like to express thanks to parents who have sent their children to Thuc Nghiem School; cohorts of teachers who have joined in effective co-operation with us, and most importantly our pupils who feel happy studying at our school," he added.
Out with the old
He brought the new ideas back from his time spent in the Soviet Union where he observed new teaching methods and innovative ideas in education at Experimental School No 91 in Moscow.
During his study there Dai practised teaching modern maths for first, second and third grade students and successfully defended his PhD thesis in 1978 based on that experimental teaching.
He saw the enthusiasm students had for learning and decided to bring the methodology to Viet Nam, however he faced obstacles and resistance to setting up the model.
When Dai proposed to apply the method to Vietnamese classrooms he was met with a reactionary mindset from individuals and faced particular difficulties when the national education system was reformed in the 1990s.
He suggested a trial, teaching modern maths for first grade students, but he said the majority voted against him and only two were in favour of the new method.
"My educational theory seemed to be the direct opposite to the national education system.
"My philosophy is the student is at the centre not the teacher; learning means playing; learning without examining and without giving a mark," Dai said.
"Meanwhile, the national education system emphasises the importance of the teacher, forcing students to learn without considering how they think and focus on giving out marks and regular examinations. This places too much pressure on the students, as well as their parents," he said.
Dai's ETP has finally received due recognition and is now being applied widely thanks to an agreement from the Minister of Education and Training, Pham Vu Luan.
He was very happy because this year hundreds of primary schools in Viet Nam's nearly 40 provinces and cities have applied to access his ETP method, which is supported by text books he wrote for first-graders in Vietnamese language and mathematics.
Vu Thi Tham, deputy head of the Ho Tung Mau Primary School in the northern province of Nam Dinh says her school has been transformed by the programme.
"What differentiates this programme from others is that it helps students develop their own thinking," Tham says.
"After a two-year trial run, education managers in the province are confident in the programme because they realised that students are happy and teachers are interested in teaching."
She recalls that during the last two years of the ETP experiment her students felt that they were playing during a lesson so they understood the lesson very well.
All primary schools in the province have now used Prof Dai's methodology.
Tran Thi Ngoc Hue, a teacher at the Duong Hoa Primary School in the southern province of Kien Giang's Kien Luong District, says most of her students are ethnic Khmer.
"Compared with other programmes they are now able to get meaning of the lesson very quickly.
"For example, they can now read Vietnamese lessons fluently right from the first term of the school year while in the past they couldn't even at the year end," she says.
Hue says the programme guides teachers on how to use their teaching methods so that their students can practise and know how to recognise phonic elements, or the sounds related to speech, in class.
"As a result, the students can read and write fluently because they are well versed in the rules on spelling. Not one of them is facing illiteracy," Hue says.
"This method creates a positive mood for both teachers and students who gain the confidence to communicate with teachers and their friends," she says.
Teacher Nguyen Thanh Huyen of Trinh Tuong Primary School in the same province says they do not have to prepare lessons before teaching.
"As a result, we have much more time to do research and take on the concerns of our students; we talk more with them and understand them more. It's very important," Huyen says.
"The programme is really significant because it helps completely change the way to teach and to learn," says Hoang Duc Tung, former head of Trung Nhi Primary School in the midland province of Vinh Phuc's Phuc Yen Town.
In the past a teacher lectured and read while students wrote, now the teacher acts as a designer and facilitator and the students work as engineers and builders, Tung says.
Last school year, hundreds of parents rushed to register their children to study at the school, he adds.
Pham Anh Dao, from Ha Noi's Ba Dinh District, says the school has won prestige for its quality among parents since its founding 35 years ago.
"I chose this school because each class has only 40 students and my first grade daughter did not have to carry a big bag full of books to school. But more importantly is that she did not have to do exercises at home," Dao says.
She says she had to wake up at 3am to line up the queue to secure a position for her second child to study here.
Like Dao, Pham Van Thanh in Ha Noi's Cau Giay District has chosen this school for their two children because the model respects personality of each student from the first grade.
"My children feel respected when communicating with teachers. It is one of very few schools in Viet Nam that don't pressure children to achieve. My children say they feel quite comfortable when going to school. Moreover, each subject is taught by a specific teacher unlike other schools in which one teacher must teach many subjects," Thanh says.
He adds however that he is a little unhappy because a number of kind-hearted teachers have moved on to work for other private schools.
"Many more parents have registered to apply the ET programme next school year," says Ngo Hien Tuyen, an education expert from the Ministry of Education and Training's Primary School Department and co-ordinator of the ETP. — VNS
A tawny jacket is one that is orange-brown or yellowish-brown in colour.
By taking deliberate steps, he walks while thinking about each step he takes.
Applause means clapping.
A podium is a stand people stand beside when they speak to an audience.
A psychologist is someone who has studied and knows a lot about the human mind and the way people behave. An educational psychologist is one who does this work at schools and in other educational environments.
When someone is moved, they feel emotional about something.
An attentive audience is made up of people who pay attention to a speaker.
An experimental school is one where new ways of teaching are tried out on students.
A conductor is somebody who shows people who are working in a team, such as an orchestra, when they should do things.
When people work in concert with one another, they work as a team and in an organised manner.
Cohorts of teachers means groups of teachers.
Co-operation means working together.
Innovative ideas are new and original ideas.
A PhD is a university degree. Its full name is a Doctorate of Philosophy. When someone studies such a course, it often involves writing up a special project, called a thesis.
Methodology means a system of different methods used to achieve something.
When someone reacts to something with a reactionary mindset, they are likely to disagree with what they are being told.
Reformed means changed.
If something is transformed, it changes from one thing into another thing.
To read a language fluently means to be able to do so easily and confidently.
Phonic means to do with sound.
Illiteracy means not being able to read and write.
To win prestige means that people respect you for what you have achieved, or what they think you have achieved.
State which of the following are true, or false:
1. Professor Ho Ngoc Dai spent some time in the former Soviet Union.
2. Viet Nam has more than forty provinces.
3. Ho Tung Mau Primary School is in Kien Giang province.
4. Viet Nam's Minister of Education and Training is Pham Vu Luan.
5. Nguyen Thanh Huyen works as a teacher.
© Duncan Guy/Learn the News/ Viet Nam News 2013
1. True; 2. False; 3. False; 4. True; 5. True.