by Hong Minh
HA NOI — Vu Minh Quang, father of a seventh grader at Trung Nhi Junior Secondary School, noticed a contradiction in his son's English.
|An English lesson is supported by multimedia equipment at Cat Linh Primary School in Ha Noi. Statistics from the Ministry of Education and Training show that a large number of students are studying English as a foreign language at schools and colleges. — VNA/VNS Photo Bich Ngoc
"He has always got best marks at English grammar, but when I take him out to meet my foreign partners, he finds it hard to speak proficiently," Quang said.
As Quang's doubts about the quality of English teaching at his son's school rose, he thought the targets in the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET)'s National Foreign Languages 2020 Project too ambitious to achieve.
The project, released in 2008, by 2020 aims for most Vietnamese students graduating from secondary, vocational schools, colleges and universities to be able to use a foreign language confidently.
It also aims that they study and work in an integrated, multi-cultural and multi-lingual environment.
The project is part of the educational development of Vietnamese people in the cause of industrialisation and modernisation.
"Sometimes I see wrong explanations and pronunciations made by my son's teacher," he said, "Teachers at lower education levels must be proficient so that they do not spoil students' ability.
"Once we have good quality English teaching staff, then the language project becomes more practical," he added.
Statistics from the MoET show that 98 per cent of students are studying English as a foreign language at schools and colleges. The ministry's report says that many cannot use English after seven years at school and two years at college.
Deputy Minister of Education and Training Nguyen Vinh Hien admitted the biggest problem in English training in Viet Nam was the lack of good quality teachers.
"Besides, teachers have been focusing on grammar instead of other skills," he said.
Sharing the same opinion, US educator Diana Dudzik, who has helped with the development of National English Teachers Education Curriculum, said the major weakness of English teachers was language proficiency.
"They need time and opportunity to improve proficiency," Dudzik said.
She added that schools should pay teachers adequately so that they could concentrate on teaching.
"If teachers have to do extra jobs to get money, how can they manage time to improve their language proficiency and methodology," she said.
As part of the project, English teachers at public schools will undergo a test to ensure they are qualified to teach. The required level is B2, which is equivalent to 5-6 scores with the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
English teacher Hoai Huong at Ngo Si Lien Junior Secondary School in Ha Noi said she had known about the test since the beginning for the school year, but no further information was provided.
Huong believed that the test would not be a problem to those teaching at schools for talented students since they had good background and experiences.
"However, the test might be difficult for many teachers in rural schools," Huong said.
"Many of my colleagues in underprivileged schools may feel nervous about their scores since they will affect their future."
Huong said teachers wanted to know more about the test, the test model and time, so that they could prepare better.
Manager of the project, Nguyen Ngoc Hung, said the test could be modelled on those from international institutions, such as Cambridge and Oxford, or from eight prestigious universities nationwide that had been licensed by MoET, including Ha Noi University, Viet Nam National University and HCM City University for Teacher's Training.
"The test will help departments of education and training check on the quality of English teachers," Hung said, "Based on the results, localities can make adequate plans to train and foster teachers."
According to Hung, 24 cities and provinces have organised the test.
The MoET official said localities would give under-qualified teachers two years to improve their skills.
Deputy Minister of Education Hien urged teachers to apply self study. "This is the most important thing," he said, "Training courses will just last for a week or two and provide them with skills for self study."
"The ministry is building a website for English teachers to log in for self study," he added. — VNS