Monday, December 5 2016

VietNamNews

Ban on after-school lessons a step in right direction

Update: September, 01/2016 - 11:09
At a meeting with HCM City People’s Council last week, a principal of a local public primary school burst into tears while talking about a harsh prohibition in which schools are no longer permitted to operate extra classes. — Photo vietnamnet.vn

Khánh Dương

At a meeting with HCM City People’s Council last week, a principal of a local public primary school burst into tears while talking about a harsh prohibition in which schools are no longer permitted to operate extra classes.

“Why are doctors allowed to open private clinics? Why can singers perform shows to earn more money but teachers cannot? There is nothing more upsetting for teachers than not being able to live on their own job’s salary,” the educational facility leader bitterly said.

One of the first directives given by the newly-appointed Minister of Education and Training, Phùng Xuân Nhạ, was to order HCM City to take the initiative in putting an end to redundant extra classes.

Right after that, Secretary of the municipal Party’s Committee, Đinh La Thăng, showed his strong determination and issued the ban at local schools from this new school year, saying that it is still acceptable to run classes to help weak students or foster talented students without collecting tuition fees.

Despite the nationwide ban having been officially announced to the public many times, extra classes in numerous forms continue to grow.

That students take a series of extra classes after they finish the main compulsory periods at school has remained pervasive among Vietnamese students at public schools, especially those living in urban areas. So much so that after-school classes, in the minds of students, have become an integral part of their daily study.

When I was at primary school, nearly 20 years ago, a study day for me and my classmates included five official periods in the morning and extra periods in the afternoon. The extra time was usually spent on taking the rest of the lessons that we had not finished in the morning or doing practice exercises, and sometimes doing homework to reduce the overloaded amount of work assigned for home.

When the secondary and high school curricula became heavier, we continued to take on extra hours, but now for longer, until after dinner time.

The typical timetable of today’s students has remained unchanged. My younger sister who just entered her final year in high school two weeks ago has been stitched into a tight schedule from the early morning before I wake up until no later than 9pm. How much time in the day does she spend on entertainment? As little as zero!

The extra classes might be school-run or home-based classes opened by teachers. Extra classes in Việt Nam are not considered just to help vulnerable and slow students fill the holes in their knowledge and catch up with their peers. They are for everyone, aiming to build up piles of extra knowledge to help students get better test scores. They are a response to the idea that an official 45-minute-period is never going to be long enough for students to absorb the knowledge in the curricula they need to pass exams.

It is seemingly awkward for parents to say no to extra classes. A big question raised is, “How will our children be if not taking after-school classes while the majority of students in their class do?”

There is a visible common fear among parents that their students might get bad marks or lack the care and attention of teachers if they don’t take extra classes.

The ban by HCM City’s authorities was targeted against a negative phenomenon called “academic disease” in the Vietnamese education sector, and to reduce pressure on students. However, it has faced opposition from local teachers who claim that teachers cannot make ends meet with their humble salaries at public schools without teaching private tutoring classes. The extra classes, in fact, are their main source of income, not to mention the real and reasonable demands of students to be equipped with extra knowledge.

Nguyễn Thu Cúc, principal of Gia Định High School in HCM City said, “It is difficult for students to pass university entrance exams without extra classes, and the ban will lower the overall education quality of the City.”

To pass important exams or make an impressive academic record, it seems taking extra classes is a must. Is it the right way to think?

Does the ban on extra classes inevitably pull the nation’s education quality down as the teachers worry about?

Vietnamese students have been known for their remarkable achievements at international Olympiad contests in science subjects. But not all of them have had the chance to take extra classes.

We have heard a lot in media stories of Vietnamese students who have scored the highest results in national university entrance exams. Not all of them could afford to take classes after school hours.

Students who hail from poor families in rural areas can hardly afford daily expenses and basic tuition fees for universal education, let alone extra classes. While urban students head to extra classes, the poor choose to spend their time on self study.

Extra classes have given students the feeling of being excessively reliant on teachers. Theory-packed curriculum and ’forceful’ extra classes turn Vietnamese students into being passive receivers of knowledge that lack practical social skills to survive in their real lives and meet the pragmatic requirements of job recruiters.

The low income status country last year surprised the world by being ranked 12th in a report conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on the global scale of education quality, outperforming developed countries like the UK and the US. The report was based on mathematics and science test scores achieved by 15-year-olds in 76 countries.

However, according to the latest report by the International Labour Organisation, labour productivity in Việt Nam is the lowest in the Asia–Pacific region, showing large gaps between theory learned at school and crucial skills matching relevant job requirements.

The ban on extra classes will not be efficient while the thinking persists that no extra classes means no teachers, which results in low academic results. This mindset has delayed students’ independent and creative thinking, as well as discouraged them from proving their ability through self study, which plays a vital role when the amount of knowledge increases in line with academic level.

Attitudes towards how to learn more effectively proves to have broader effects.

In the era of the Internet, online search engines and various types of advanced technology can be utilised as powerful tools to do self research and enrich one’s knowledge. Teachers need to take the role of orienting students towards learning methods and inspiring them to research rather than just giving them templates of the next day’s tests only to pass near-future exams and discourage the efforts of students to self-learn.

Students should be given opportunities after school to engage themselves in physical and social activities and to experience joy and skills.

It is worthwhile to review and develop appropriate teachers’ salaries and incentive schemes to ensure that teachers receive an adequate rate of income from legal academic classes.

The eradication of extra classes is a positive sign that the Government has stepped up its efforts to reduce curricula overload. Necessarily and urgently comes another need, and that is to eradicate the old passive learning style in the mindset of both learners and teachers. — VNS

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