Thu Huong Le
My seven-year-old nephew once complained of his busy schedule. Sure, he was sometimes busier than a 20s-year-old office worker. His normal classes run from 8am to 4.30pm daily and the weekend is reserved for chess, drawing lessons and learning how to use an abacus.
My nephew was born in Japan while his mother was a Ph.D student there. She reminisces about the interesting lessons at his kindergarten in Kyoto, like learning how to plant a tree. Back in Viet Nam, she's buying him all the recreational lessons to make up for the lack of creative activities in his normal school.
Many parents are doing the same thing, especially the educated, those with reasonably-good incomes who live in big cities. Besides typical English and music lessons, many parents are now attracted to private educational centres offering early child development models.
The models include the Glenn Doman or Shichida method for early learning. All originated abroad. Parents hope these centres will spur child creativity and help the kids gain self-confidence at an early age.
Thinh Lan Diep, a 24-year-old Ha Noi mother, said Glenn Doman was a pioneer in child brain development who founded the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia. His work with brain-injured children led to many discoveries.
His methods aim at accelerating the development of normal children, using techniques such as flash-cards to teach babies how to read or learn a foreign language, mathematics or music appreciation as early as possible.
"I read many books before choosing Glenn Doman," Diep said. "I started using flash cards with letters and numbers, showing them to my baby or adjusting the light to stimulate his sight."
But now every Sunday, Diep and her eight-month-old baby is also taking lessons at a kindergarten in Tay Ho District following the "age zero solution" method, originating in China. They cost about VND250,000 per session.
Mothers learn how to make flash cards and create other learning tools. Children a bit older can learn about teamwork and other communication skills. The kindergarten also teaches kids how to make pancakes and write a screed to advertise their products.
Known as phuong an 0 tuoi ("the age zero solution") in Vietnamese, the method focuses on awakening a child's talent between the age of one to six, considered a period of golden development. The goals can include teaching the child how to ask questions and observe, a love for nature or the ability to recognise letters or create their own toys.
Diep said mothers must choose one method and trust it. "If I don't give enough information to my child now, I feel that he will grow up without any direction."
Luu Minh Huong, an expert of the "age zero solution" method at the Ha Noi-based Institute of Research on People's Development (IPD), said the goal was to open a window of opportunities.
"The children can develop an early love for learning, discover knowledge and we know from experience that they like to discover new knowledge on their own, not just absorb it passively," Huong said.
She disregarded the fact that the method was only for wealthier parents by saying that even allowing a child to have early contact with words was important. "We don't say your child will become a prodigy," she said. "We want to spread techniques that can help them start learning and awakening their senses."
Pham Duc Chuan, a psychologist from a Hanoi-based centre studying child psychology, said parents must be careful since many early learning methods were developed abroad, which meant they had to be adjusted for the local culture.
In many cases, parents put flash cards in their baby's carriage not knowing that the child would not know anything at that age. Chuan said one parent put English words all over the place for children, which led to one of them slow to pick up Vietnamese.
In an opinion piece written after her book Tiger Babies Strike Back was published, author Kim Wong Keltner wrote that while "we were cramming to learn English or Mandarin, we forgot to learn the vocabulary of the foreign language of our feelings. We don't know the words for ‘I'm sorry' or even ‘I love you.'"
As another Ha Noi parent, Nguyen Kieu Trang, says: "The goal is to make your kid happy. "If that does not happen, the nothing else matters." — VNS