by Khanh Van
Starting next month, primary school students will be slowly weaned from the traditional marking system for their work. Instead, teachers will judge them through comments on their overall capacity and performance.
The change follows a recent decision by the Ministry of Education and Training. It has been welcomed by many parents who expect it to help ease pressure on their kids, but there are others who feel more comfortable with the old exam system.
As a mother of a five-year-old boy who will enter first grade next year, I am also happy at the development. My son will start his school career without pressure to score high marks.
Although the old system does help measure a student's capacity it, to some extent, creates unnecessary pressure for kids of between six and 10 years. When I was a primary student more than 20 years ago, I was always upset when I received low marks. This meant I was lagging behind my classmates and that my parents would start to complain.
Poor marks also upsets youngsters and certainly does not encourage them to go to school.
My nine-year-old nephew, Le Quoc Minh, a fourth grader at Dich Vong Primary School in Ha Noi, said he felt embarrassed when he got bad marks. "I sometimes even hide the truth by not telling my parents," he said. "Getting bad marks during my first weeks at school frightened me. There were times I was so disappointed I did not want to go to school."
Pham Xuan Tien, Head of the primary education division of the Ha Noi Education and Training Department, agreed that getting bad marks in the first days at school could be upsetting.
The decision to drop the marking system for primary students is also expected to help deal with the so-called "achievement disease" forced on so many young students by the old system.
The term is widely used by the Ministry of Education and Training and educators to describe the phenomenon of schools trying to obtain higher ranking at any cost. Many teachers often raise their students' marks to dishonestly creating more "excellent" students, thus helping to embellish the school's achievement records.
Giving marks this way is harmful to students, not only does it not reflect their real capacity, it makes them live a false dream and think they do not have to study harder.
Commenting on a student's overall capacity instead of giving marks is also expected to help deal with another problem, the frantic and often costly efforts by parents to push their worn-out kids into extra-curricular studies.
In Viet Nam, extra classes still exist in spite of a ban from the Ministry of Education in 2009. The classes are held not only for children already attending school, but also for five-year-olds who have just "graduated" from kindergarten.
The parents become caught up in the marking system. They want to send their kids to extra classes so that they can get higher marks. However, they do not realise that children of such an age need more time to play and to relax so that they can easily adjust to life.
Nguyen Minh Chau, a primary teacher in Ha Noi, said extra classes, particularly pre-school classes for five-year-old kids, could have harmful effects on children's health. "Also, children tend to pay less attention to studying at class because they think they already know all the answers," she said.
She added that teachers' comments were a better way to judge a child's performance than a collection of marks.
However, the decision still rankles many teachers and parents because they find it hard to assess a student's capacity without the traditional marking system. Nguyen Phuong Hoa, mother of a third grader in Cau Giay District, said she still wanted to see the marks to know how her child was going.
"Only making comments about their abilities does not reflect their real capacity," she said. "Also, nothing can be clearer than marks. Comments depend on a teacher's capacity and their attitude towards each student."
Bui Thu Thuy, a first-grade teacher, said giving comments instead of regular marks was popular in other countries, but it was not easy to do in Viet Nam, particularly in classes with up to 70 students.
She said there were subjects that required marks rather than comments to let students how much they had achieved. "In maths, for example, teachers should clearly point out all the mistakes students make, including the minor ones, instead of just giving general comments about their work," she said.
"Also, teachers could be encouraged to give positive comments that would make students feel they were better than they really were and therefore needed no extra studies," she said.
To sum up, primary students should go to school and find learning fun rather than a competition. But the Ministry of Education and Training needs to set up standards to make sure teachers make fair and constructive comments. — VNS