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Children study nation's heritage

Update: March, 20/2012 - 10:23

by Thu Hien

 

With a click of the mouse, Nguyen Ngoc Chau Anh, a 9th grade student in Ha Noi, breathes a sigh of relief as she makes the final touch on a presentation about can wine, a traditional drink of the M'Nong ethnic minority, for a class project tomorrow.
HA NOI — With a click of the mouse, Nguyen Ngoc Chau Anh, a 9th grade student in Ha Noi, breathes a sigh of relief as she makes the final touch on a presentation about can wine, a traditional drink of the M'Nong ethnic minority, for a class project tomorrow.

"Our presentation is about the origin of can wine, its role in M'Nong cultural life, the main ingredients that go into making it, and its current popularity," she says proudly.

"We got all our information from research and interviewing local people and authorities. This presentation is for our lesson on cultural heritage in the Central Highlands. Other groups choose to report on topics such as brocades or ethnic minority houses."

Suddenly casting her eyes, covered in thick short-sighted glasses, around her room and pointing to a big paper hat and a green jacket hanging on the wall, she says: "These products were made after our recent visit to the Women's Museum near my school. They are replicas of clothes worn by women and children during wartime."

She says studying cultural heritage through independent study or in the framework of literature, history and geography curriculum, and extra-curricular activities is "challenging but really interesting".

Chau Anh and her classmates are among hundreds of students in Ha Noi, and Hoa Binh and Dak Nong provinces who have the chance to enjoy such interesting subjects thanks to the new approach to teaching about cultural heritage adopted by their schools in the middle of last year. Most students nationwide are still inundated with loads of theories in history classes.

Nguyen Van Huy, deputy director of the Viet Nam Centre for Cultural Heritage Research and Promotion, which assists these schools in applying the new approach, says: "It is time for educators nationwide to experience this teaching method because most schools have tried to educate young people about the country's cultural heritage for years by cramming too much theory into their heads, mainly in their history classes."

They seem to believe history is the only channel to introduce heritage to their students, he says.

Chau Anh says history classes used to be teachers talking about past events and heritage while students just listened and took notes. For exams, students memorised the necessary information then immediately forgot it when the exam was over.

"Some of my friends said history was their most hated subject. The classes made us feel that heritage was irrelevant to our life and beyond our understanding," she says.

Ministry of Education and Training statistics show that thousands of students at last year's university entrance examination earned zero marks on their history tests. More than 98 per cent of examinees earned less than average grades at the exams for many universities, such as Ton Duc Thang, Da Nang, Quy Nhon and Da Lat.

"Educators should first change their conception of cultural and natural heritage. The topic is not limited to recognised heritage or museums that schools visit on field trips, but also pagodas, temples, specialities or arts around their schools or their neighbourhood. They are really familiar with them and their students," Huy says.

"When their conception changes, their approach to teaching about cultural heritage will change accordingly."

Duong Bich Hanh, a culture programme co-ordinator at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) says: "Teachers should be flexible when introducing cultural heritage to their students. Heritage education can be compacted into many subjects such as literature, geography, history or even mathematics."

Dinh Phuong Anh, a teacher at Ha Noi's Le Ngoc Han School says with this new teaching method, her students actively choose their favourite topic related to a specific cultural heritage. Then they form a mind map to define their focus, what they should do to learn about the topic, what information they need and who can provide the information.

She says based on this map, they conduct research on their own and ask for their teacher's help in making contact with information providers such as cultural experts, historians or local people.

After one or two weeks of research, students present their findings in various forms such as models, pictures, short films or presentations. The teacher's role is to guide his or her students, she says.

Student Chau Anh says: "We want to understand the country's cultural heritage by seeing, touching and feeling something from them, studying them on our own and finally keeping them in our mind. With such research processes, we are free to be creative in studying cultural heritage."

"I realise that our heritage exists in my daily life. They can be found in the lyrics my grandmother sings or the drink my grandfather likes," she says.

"Through the interesting information students learn about different aspects of cultural heritage, teachers can update their information and learn a lot from them," Phuong Anh says.

Experts Huy and Hanh agree that schools should also take advantage of extra-curricular activities to introduce different aspects of cultural heritage to students.

Huy says they need to change the method of organising heritage visits according to the following steps. During the pre-visit stage, teachers should briefly introduce the particular cultural heritage in advance and instruct students to conduct a quick study about what they are going to see. During the visit, teachers should hand out a set of questions as a guide for students to discover as much as they can about the heritage. Post visit, students should present their findings.

Experts have expressed worries about how to popularise this method of cultural heritage education among schools nationwide.

Deputy Minister of Education and Training Nguyen Vinh Hien says teachers are gradually applying the new approach to heritage education. Heritage education has become an official task for schools to contribute to the development of education quality.

The ministry will continue to implement measures to popularise this, he says.

Effectiveness and success of the task depends a lot on the Ministry of Education and Training's official decisions and associated regulations, Hanh says.

By the end of this month, UNESCO plans to work with the ministry to review practical models of heritage education in Viet Nam and other countries to choose the most suitable one to be officially popularised among schools nationwide. An itinerary to implement this model should be drafted, she says.

Reference materials offering specific guidance to teachers about methods of teaching cultural heritage in various subjects at different grade levels and examples of the steps that need to be followed during museum or heritage visits have been worked out, Huy says.

"Our cultural heritage plays an important role in differentiating Viet Nam from other countries. Looking at our heritage, people can say that: it is Viet Nam's, not Lao's or China's. It is necessary for young people like me to pay attention to them, understand them and preserve them," Chau Anh says.

"In the past I didn't understand history and the meanings of my local pagoda which I have visited many times. But now, I can guide any visitors to this pagoda." — VNS

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