by Bui Quynh Hoa
Summer, the examination season for Vietnamese students, is coming. This means lots of pressure are waiting for students; but not for fifth graders because they don't have to take lower secondary school entrance exams any more.
Recently, the Education and Training Ministry instructed that potential sixth-graders should be admitted to lower secondary schools based on their primary school performance, and not through entrance exams. The move is intended to ease the workload on students and halt private tutoring widely used by fifth graders. But it also raises problems for some private schools because they don't know how to recruit students to their schools as the demand is much more than the seats available. Public schools are also waiting for the education authority's specific guidance.
Talking about the ban, Prof Van Nhu Cuong, chairman of the managing board of the Luong The Vinh Secondary School, said this was a question that had no answer for his school.
"Together with a strong academic programme, which recognises that a large number of graduates enter prestigious high schools nationwide, we enroll students from all over the country, even foreign students, and not just the ones coming from locations specified for public schools.
"In the previous school year, we had only 700 seats while the number of applications was more than 4,000. So what can we do as the number of students getting registered in our school is much higher than our available seats?" Cuong said.
"Further, the elementary school performance assessment has not been based on scores for the last several years. So what standard should we apply to enroll students in our school? This may also cause enrollment problems. I think the education ministry should have specific guidance for both public and private schools that receive a large number of applications," Cuong said.
The Marie Curie Secondary School shares the same concern about the ban because it receives applications in thousands, while it has just 300 seats.
"We'll abide by the ministry's decision. At present, we have cancelled the entrance exams to admit sixth-grade students to our school, but we still don't know how to deal with the ban," Vu Thi Nhung, vice principal of the Marie Curie school, said.
Other magnet secondary schools such as Ha Noi-Amsterdam, Nguyen Tat Thanh and Cau Giay are also waiting for guidance on the enrollment process.
Some parents are also worried about the ban.
"The education system in Viet Nam, in fact, is not synchronised. Some schools are good, some are not really good. Some teachers are professional, some are not. So, the fight to enroll our children in selective schools is understandable," Duong Binh Minh from Ha Noi said.
"No entrance exams also means unclear enrollment. How can we know the enrollment was fair and that there was no negative factor regarding competition?" he said.
Pham Thi Lan Lan, a mother, also disagreed with the ban on entrance exams.
"In my opinion, it's not okay if we put all students with different learning levels in the same class or school. They'll only develop if we classify and give them proper curriculum."
"Further, the education ministry should build more well-equipped schools with skilled, enthusiastic and highly paid teachers first, and then consider synchronisation," Lan said.
Vice-minister of Education and Training Nguyen Vinh Hien said the ban, which applies to all public and private schools nationwide, except on those for gifted students in arts and sports, was aimed at easing the workload on primary school students, and dealing with the widely prevalent private tutoring at home and school.
He said in case the number of students getting registered in a school was higher than the seats available, the school would then have to formulate proper admission policies and submit the same to the local authorities for approval.
The Thinh Quang Secondary School's principal Nguyen Thi Thuy Hang shares the same opinion.
"The curriculum in secondary schools is just compulsory education. Studying at school is enough for children. There is no need for them to attend any extra classes. So, parents of primary school students don't have to worry about this," Hang said.
"Parents want to enroll their children in well-known schools because of the large percentage of graduates attending magnet high schools. But parents forget that most students admitted to those schools are already well-trained, and so it's normal for them to have good records," she said.
Du Aùnh Hong, a mother of two who graduated from secondary schools over several years, also supports the ban.
"I'm sure not all teachers in a prestigious selective school are good, and not all those in a normal school are bad. So it'll be clever if you can find for your children skilled and enthusiastic teachers in a normal school. This will prevent your little sweethearts from getting stress and examination depression. It's also a good way to save money," Hong said.
Studying well is good but not enough, I think. Along with hard work, our children should know how to take care of and love their loved ones. They also have to be trained in doing housework, cooking and understanding the outside world, and should know how to exist in a developing but challenging and competitive society as well.
So studying in an advanced environment such as selective or famous private secondary schools might be good, but it's not a must.
Each student has his/her own abilities and capacities. Let's try to understand what our children want or who they want to follow or become. Find them the best way that suits their capacities, encourage their passion for study, and support them with our best efforts. Then they'll develop for sure, and achieve success at school and in life. — VNS