by Chi Lan
One day I cried a river on the way home from my first-grade class. My teacher scolded me for not writing in the style she wanted but the old-fashioned formal font my father had taught me the night before. My teacher's font looked like cold boring Times New Roman, while what my father taught me was so beautiful and elegant that it would be carefully written on wedding invitations.
After that, my father stopped helping me with my writing homework.
I was not angry at my teacher for taking away some father-daughter time. She was overall a good teacher who did her job. She did what the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) asked her and other teachers to do: to "reform" our education system – though I still don't understand how changing how we write can make us a smarter or a better person.
I should have known that this was just one of many "reforms" that would happen through my student life.
After five years in primary school I got into junior high school after a primary graduation exam. Mine was the last year the exam took place as the officials thought it was not necessary anymore. They also decided to change the junior high school graduation exam and cut the number of testing subjects to two – maths and literature, instead of five like I did. Twice my classmates and I were the last student generation before a reform.
I finally got the chance to be a first-timer when I entered the high school. My school was one of three schools subjected to a pilot education high-school reform. I studied in a different teaching system, learned from special textbooks and took a graduation exam held specifically for students from the three schools. I often referred to myself and my friends as a generation of guinea pigs.
But there have been far more guinea pigs than I expected. My sister, my nieces and nephews were and are still being challenged with all kinds of educational reforms that show no sign of stopping. The latest was a plan for big changes from primary school to university level that were first made public late last year, promised by the MoET to "better equip students with practical skills", as many reforms in the past promised.
According to the plan, the high-school teaching system where I was the guinea pig is to be dropped entirely after only seven years of official implementation on a nation-wide scale. MoET Deputy Minister Nguyen Vinh Hien even said that the system was "a failure".
What does that make me and millions of other students then?
Reform is supposed to shed new light on the path towards development, educational reform is no exception to this. The initial intention of the MoET's reforms was good; to better train young people to better prepare themselves for their future and for the sake of their motherland.
But perhaps some officials should lower themselves a little bit and put themselves in the shoes of the students once in a while.
There would be no problem if textbooks had not been changed almost every ten years, exams had not been called on and off continuously or students had not been divided into different specialised classes in high school mostly out of their fears of some subjects.
It would be ok if the reforms had at least achieved something positive.
Decades of relentless educational reforms have failed to turn Vietnamese youth into a competitive work force in the region, let alone in the world. They are good at theory but weak in practical and soft skills. Most can't speak English fluently despite the language being a compulsory subject since primary school. They don't even know their own country's history. They are basically everything the educational reformers did not wish to see.
Except for those who are financially supported, we commoners can't say no to such fruitless reforms. The decisions were made first, among the experts only, and then came the public announcement followed soon by a trial run on a pilot group of students or nation-wide implementation without consulting those directly affected – the teachers, the students and their parents. They had no choice. Teachers couldn't afford to lose their jobs and parents couldn't risk their children not going to school.
Because we have no choice, at least be considerate towards us like any other office worker. Stop treating us like a guinea pig.
Just so you know, the MoET decided to return to my father's handwriting style in 2002. But my time has passed, and I will have to live with the embarrassment of bad handwriting for the rest of my life. — VNS