by Thu Anh
Nguyen Thi Gia Minh wakes up early in the morning every day to a volley of stringent exhortations.
"Get up. You have to go to your preparatory class, right now. Do you know how much I spend on your lessons? Do you want a poor education like your parents?"
The 18-year-old high school graduate and resident of HCM City's Tan Phu District, has gone to bed late. She pleads with her mother, "Please give me time to sleep."
Sleep has to wait, however. Minh is one of more than 1.8 million students around the country who are preparing for the university entrance examinations in July.
Her current schedule, which began two months ago, begins at six o'clock in the morning and ends at midight after her parents have made sure she has finished all her lessons and homework. At first, she went to school in the morning and the preparatory classes in the evening.
Now, after her high school graduation, she still spends the whole day attending three preparatory classes."I had to take the preparatory class each night although I felt very tired after finishing school. But you'll never pass the entrance exams if you don't attend them," Minh said.
Minh's preparatory classes are taught by university lecturers in their houses. Each class has 20 to 30 students, including many coming from other localities.
Minh is luckier than many of her peers because only students from wealthy backgrounds can afford these classes. "It means we are able to study with experienced teachers and stand a better chance of passing the exam," she says.
Her parents, who own a small grocery shop at home, are spending nearly VND6 million (US$286) a month on these classes.
The number of preparatory classes and centres is increasing rapidly, with around 240 preparatory centres registered in the city. But the real number is much higher.
Students from poorer backgrounds and the provinces study in private tutorials that are often not registered.
"We pay VND3.5 million ($167) for a one-month course and attend at least three different classes. It is a lot of money for our family," said Tran Quoc Luong, a student from Long An Province.
Luong and his three friends go to a tutorial in Go Vap District.
With around 60 students in the class they have to strain very hard just to hear their teacher speak. There is never enough time to ask questions or discuss lessons with each other. On occasion, there have been as many as 120 students in a single class.
Many poor students have to put up with the poor quality of the tutorial centres. Even if they are not registered, the illegal centres are often the only option poorer students have.
"We want to improve students' knowledge and help them secure a place in the university. However, many preparatory centres just concern themselves with making a quick profit instead of providing quality teaching," said Trinh Anh Nguyen, lecturer at the city's Law University.
"We are increasing inspections and closing the tutorials if they are functioning illegally," Nguyen Tien Dat, deputy director of the Department of Education and Training, said in a recent interview with the Sai Gon Giai Phong (Sai Gon Liberated) newspaper.
That does not provide any relief for the students, who will still seek help to help them prepare better for the all important university entrance exams.
Many see the upcoming exams as "make or break" time. — VNS