March, 20 2014 09:24:26

Viet Nam's education system fails History test

by Thu Huong

The indifference of high-school students towards the subject of History continues. Another wave of exams is coming and for the first time, high-school seniors can choose a third subject for graduation exams besides Maths and Literature.

However, preliminary statistics from HCM City show that only about two to five per cent of students are choosing History as their third subject. In some high schools in Ha Noi and Hai Phong, only one or two students select the subject.

At Luong The Vinh High School for the Gifted in Ha Noi, not a single student chose History. At Einstein High School in Ha Noi, one 12th grader even made newspaper headlines for being the only one to register for the subject.

It's not the first time that History has received such "apathy" from our youngsters, to the point that those who score high or love this subject are prominently featured on newspapers. Are their love for history considered something unusual by society or weirdness?

A few years ago, society was abuzz when a large percentage of students scored so low for History that they failed to pass their entrance exams. Nothing has changed. In a nation with such a proud past, History is being left on the shelf.

But we can't let the subject fade, firstly because of national pride. history explains the country's past and shows why this generation is free to pursue their dreams. The younger generations are the future leaders. Producing a generation with little knowledge about the past is disheartening.

History can also enforce critical thinking and writing skills. With the Internet and social media, students now can access to a vast amount of information, not just from textbooks. Rather than forcing them to remember facts, let them think and ask questions.

History can also help bridge the gap between the generations, between youngsters and the elders. Professor Nguyen Loc from the Viet Nam Institute of Educational Sciences told an online newspaper that students had to make decisions that were practical for their future. "For many years, we keep talking about this same problem. But it's not history that is not appealing. It's the way we teach it."

Many history teachers lament at outdated textbooks loaded with facts and figures that students are forced memorise. In the battle for students by colleges and tighter job markets, it's easy to understand why the subject is being ignored.

While reforms may take years to be seen, there are ways to revive the subject. Even though there is a lack of supporting material, teachers can decide to talk to students about history instead of lecture them, ask them to think about events rather than try and memorise them. Students should also be encouraged to explore online materials or visit museums and exhibitions.

Spicing up lessons is not too difficult. It is easy to incorporate material that vitally affects national and international situations. Give students a reason to learn that History can help them with their careers, indeed, that the past is locked into the present and the future. Can they become financial managers without understanding how ancient financial systems operated and how they influence today's activities. Can they become policy makers without knowing how past leaders made decisions?

As we struggle to make our students more passionate about the past, the number of American students studying in Viet Nam is increasing. I once interviewed one of these students who said she they felt learning about the culture and history of Viet Nam was important to their development and understanding of their own history.

But maybe the youngsters in our country still value the lessons of the past, to learn of the heroes who protected our nation in difficult times. It's not that they only want to learn about stuff that can lead to good jobs and good money.

Last year, at the funeral of General Vo Nguyen Giap, thousands of young people lined up to pay tribute. This was strong evidence that they do care. They would be happy to learn if the system could develop better ways to teach the subject. — VNS

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