by Nguyen Thu Hang
A class leader will henceforth be called "President of the Student Council," it has been decreed.
Students, parents and other adults are scratching their heads over this one.
"It's so strange," said fifth grader Nguyen Cong Nam. He learnt of the chance while watching news on television. It said the nomenclatural initiative was being taken under a new teaching and learning project implemented by the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET).
Nam, a student of the Linh Nam Primary School in Ha Noi's Hoang Mai District, said that the new name for the class leader felt "unfriendly" and "unsuitable."
The education ministry's announcement generated debates within families and communities last week.
Nam's father agreed with his son. "I don't think it is necessary to change it because Vietnamese people are so used to ‘class leader.' Words like ‘president' or ‘vice president' are usually used for adults. Maybe, it can be used for secondary school students, but not for the younger ones."
Of course, it is not just the title that is being changed.
Until now, the class leader was typically appointed by the teacher, but the president and vice president of Student Council will be elected by all students. And they will have the right to dismiss the president if they feel she or he is not doing a good job.
As I listened to Hoang Ngoc Oanh, the mother of a second-grade student, I felt it would have been good if the powers that be had listened to her as well before introducing the new education model.
"I think primary students are too young to choose the leader for their class. And with the new name for the position, children can become power mongers," she said.
Luu Minh Hieu, the father of a primary school student, said that he had to actually ask a teacher to remove his daughter as a class monitor. One day, she excitedly told him that she'd already punished a classmate for going to school late and talking in the class.
"Many students appointed class leaders think that they have the right to manage, command or punish other students…," Hieu said, adding, "It will affect the children's personality. It is not good for a child."
Deputy Education Minister Nguyen Vinh Hien said last week that the new model was not new. It had been applied since 2012 in many schools in provinces like Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Tra Vinh, and the results had been promising.
With funds from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the Vietnamese Government has been trying out the Escuela Neuva school model, which originated in Colombia, to meet the needs and demands of Vietnamese students in the 21st century.
The GPE project, also supported by the World Bank, has been in operation for three years. It seeks to build model schools that employ innovative teaching and learning methods, reorganise the classroom and increase community involvement.
Hien said teachers were not conducting class activities based on students' demands, and the process lacked creativity and democracy.
Creating democracy for children at the beginning of primary school was the goal of the new education model, he said.
He listed many positive outcomes expected out of the new model, including peer-learning and problem solving, increased self-esteem and self-reliance, creativity and social skills.
Students would be more engaged in class, teachers would serve as facilitators, and parents and other community members would be more involved in making learning relevant to their children's lives.
With rotating elections, all students can get the opportunity to lead the class.
Students would no longer sit facing the teacher and listen to her/his lecture. They would be seated in groups of 4-6 at tables and the teacher would talk among the group. Each table would have a rotating student leader who would help initiate group discussions and group work.
Luu Van Kha, a former journalist who made acquaintance of this model when he lived abroad, confirmed on his Facebook page that it was an advanced education method with many advantages that traditional Vietnamese education lacked.
This is truly great to hear, and it would be truly great to apply the new model, but is it practical and/or feasible?
Vu Thu Huyen, a teacher at the Linh Nam Primary School, said calling the class leader something else was not the point.
She said the new model, with all its advantages, would be difficult to apply in Vietnamese schools right now, with a primary class typically having more than 45 children. "In most developed countries the maximum class size is 30, and the quality of education is noticeably better," she said.
While teachers were trained to apply the new model on a pilot basis, the "normal" issues could not be ignored, Huyen said.
"I think the education sector should invest more in school infrastructure," she said.
Teachers and parents would have to play their usual roles as mentors, showing their wards the right way and right qualities, she said. If this was done, "we won't have to worry about power mongering among student leaders," she said.
No one can argue that our education system needs major changes, and this model is very promising, but for true success, we need to focus less on the form and more on the substance. — VNS