Viet Nam News
Twenty-six-year-old Tôn Nữ Tường Vy is the founder of Spread Out Academic Club and Friends English Center (FEC). Originally from Cam Ranh–Khánh Hoà Province, she has participated in the World Innovation Summit for Education in Qatar, the UNAOC-EF Summer School in the US and other conferences in more than ten countries.
Inner Sanctum: Why is education so important to you? When did you realise that you needed to make a difference?
I suffered immensely in high school. I was distressed by the perfectionism demanded by the system, and there was neither inspiration nor instruction to solve my difficulties in natural science subjects. We were expected to excel at all subjects. Finding no relief for my struggle, I became a rebel: I wopposed everything - the uniform, the curriculum and the traditional learning methods. In such a suffocating and stressful environment, there was no space for personal development. I kept pondering: is there no other way to educate students? I refused to be a parrot that spat back someone else’s ideas. What I wanted was an education that advocated the freedom of thoughts, not one where sameness is rewarded.
In my darkest period, I attempted suicide four times. In the end, my own adversity became my motivation to make a difference in the education system in Việt Nam. I would like no one to suffer the way I did.
Inner Sanctum: Tell us about Spread Out Academic Club?
Spread Out Academic Club was founded in early 2014 and is devoted to academic freedom. We are a group that encourages the pursuit of personal interests through self-study, mentorship and other diverse forms of study. We have seminars, presentations, talk shows, film screenings, field trips and book translations.
At the core of it all, we are really asking: what’s wrong with the way we’re teaching? How can Vietnamese youths nurture their lifelong learning process?
Our objective is to allow individuals to maximise their curiosity in any topic and to have the courage to push themselves further — be it through research or other forms of exploration. Additionally, we hope to collaborate with other academic groups in Việt Nam. In greater numbers, I believe our impact will multiply.
Inner Sanctum: The Friends English Center (FEC) is an organisation you founded to help young adults learn English. How does your programme stand out from others?
At the FEC, where we have developed international communication and personal development programmes, I apply some methods I have acquired from overseas training on peace-building and education. For example, I designed a personal development curriculum based on “The Four C’s” framework for 21st century skills: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical thinking. English is also a tool for us to learn the culture of dialogue by Socratic methods.
Although it is primarily an English learning community, we pose even the most fundamental questions, such as: What is thinking? What are the different types of thinking? What does it mean to think critically? Critical thinking may be a common practice for students studying abroad, but it is severely under-practised in Việt Nam.
In my view, teaching is not only about linguistics. My strengths lie in my experience of multiculturalism, religion and peace-building. For me, teaching English is creating a bridge for my students to develop their own attitudes in life. Given the overwhelming feedback from my students during the past two months, I am confident that I am heading in the right direction.
Inner Sanctum: Amidst all that you have going on — how do you find the time to read?
I do not think that I read a lot. I read just enough for my needs. (laughs)
Inner Sanctum: What is your biggest project at the moment?
I’m writing a memoir called “Beyond the Boundaries”, which is scheduled to come out in September. It’s an opportunity for me to share my personal experiences of my travels to 13 countries across the world. It’s my own story of the most defining moments of adversity, dilemma and realization so far.
Inner Sanctum: What motivates you?
Firstly, I am fortunate to have been nurtured by a family that understands the value of education. When I was still in high school, three of my siblings had already become successful teachers. Without the motivation and support of my family, I would have never gotten where I am today; the value they placed on knowledge played a big role in shaping who I am today.
I have two values that I live by. The first is to approach things with the highest standard of our competence. Certainly, no one can be perfect, but that is the goal. At the very least, we should try harder.
I try to integrate this principle in teaching. My students are instructed to pay more attention to the right pronunciation and other aspects that may not have been properly emphasized when they studied English at school. Instead of lecturing, we contemplate together: What can we learn about our lives from studying a new language?
The second value is to step out of the comfort zone: to expose oneself to new environments, and to actively engage people with diverse characteristics, experiences and perspectives. I believe that respecting our differences should not be confused with compromising our dissimilarities. Dealing with differences will lead us to a multi-dimensional habit of empathy. This is more important in an era of globalisation. Keeping this in mind allows me to lead a humble and respectful life.
One of my favourite ways to learn is to travel as a backpacker. When you are travelling alone to a new place, you experience a foreign kind of insecurity that you may not experience if you were with others. At the end of the day, the greatest opportunities for self-discovery often appear when we are pushing beyond our boundaries. VNS