by Hong Minh
A journalist colleague, Nguyen Bich Chau, realised the benefits of daily news briefings for her family when her daughter sat for high school graduation exams marking the completion of 12 years of education.
"My daughter used lots of knowledge she got from the briefings and talks during dinners in her literature, geography and biology tests," said Chau, who works for a Governmental newspaper.
Chau said she liked the exam topics as students could freely discuss and raise their voices about things happening that they had learned about.
Bich Hang, Chau's daughter, was one of nearly one million high-school students who sat for six graduation subjects, namely literature, physics, geography, biology, maths and foreign languages.
As part of the literature test on Sunday, Hang had to write a 400-word essay on the bravery of fellow twelfth grader Nguyen Van Nam in central Nghe An Province. Late last month, Nam died saving five junior high-school students from drowning.
A part of the geography test asked students to discuss the importance of co-operation between Viet Nam and neighbouring countries in solving territorial disputes in the East Sea.
In the biology test on the same day, candidates were asked to discuss key measures for sustainable development and limiting the effects of climate change.
"I used to hate doing exams on literature and geography as they just required lots of learn-by-heart stuff framed by our teachers," Hang said after completing them. "But the recent tests really encouraged us to apply our knowledge to speak about things."
The move towards applied tests and more open discussions was initiated by the Ministry of Education and Training. It was aimed at limiting the learn-by-heart phenomenon, in which students simply learn what the teachers frame for them.
Two months ago, the ministry's Department for Educational Testing and Quality Assessment confirmed that half of the coming tests would be applied questions for students to openly discuss.
A retired educator Pham Thi Nu, who had many years as a literature teacher before her retirement from Ha Noi-based Kim Lien High School, said the tests this year were much improved, especially the applied essays.
"In the literature test, the essay on drownings evoked a humane and educational lesson for students," Nu said.
"Such a test can also teach students about how to care for other people around them," she added, noting that many young people, including high school students, seemed to live selfishly and be ignorant of things happening around them.
Nu recommended all high-school teachers help students learn from textbooks as well as from daily life.
Agreeing with Nu, Nguyen Hoang Khac Hieu from HCM City University of Education's Department of Educational Psychology, said living skills were important, for example in this case, to understand the nobler sentiments in life.
It's truly necessary to equip students with news, knowledge about life and living skills besides the framed curriculum.
"Many of my friends didn't know who Nam was in the literature test or which countries were neighbours to Viet Nam as mentioned in the geography test since they just wanted to learn exactly from the textbooks for supposed higher scores," said Hang.
"I hope there will be more creative questions so that students of coming generations will be more independent and creative," she said.
Hang also hoped for more connection between the curriculum and textbooks so that students could learn with enjoyment.
"By doing so, our thoughts, such as the bravery of some people or the passion of protecting a nation's territorial sovereignty, will be real emotions, not just cliches ones," she said. — VNS