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Some disquiet over affirmative action

Update: August, 06/2017 - 09:00
Minh hoa Talk
Viet Nam News

By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Young people across the country are getting results of their college exams. While the tests are designed to screen and send the best students to college, some of them fail despite remarkably high scores in the multiple choice test.

A student scoring a very high 29.15 points found himself missing his lifetime dream of joining Hà Nội’s University of Medicine by a fraction — 0.10 points. 

“I worked really hard and I thought I did it well in the test,” he was quoted as telling the Tiền Phong (Vanguard) newspaper.

“This is my second year and I thought I’d done well, so I changed my top priority from the Millitary Academy of Medicine to apply for the Hà Nội University of Medicine. Now I find that I missed my dream by a fraction.”

This young man is among a growing number of urban students who try to get into college with just one method: work hard for the test.

The Ministry of Education and Training has been following a policy of adding few extra points to the final scores of students from disadvantaged sections of the society, including residents of rural areas and children of war invalids or martyrs in order to restore some parity with people from more privileged backgrounds.

While the preferential treatment for socially or geographically disadvantaged groups is understandable, there are some murmurs of discontent about this policy, especially among the academic community.

“This is growing to become a bigger problem,” said a professor and MD at the Hà Nội University of Medicine.

“This policy was popular when the Government was trying to give equal opportunities to all students and encouraging doctors to return to their home provinces to work after graduation,” she said.

But not all of them go back. Many find work in big cities and stay on.

“Now we have medical schools in every major region. So persisting with this policy means students in, say the Central Highlands, can go to college in Hà Nội, and vice versa.

“But the thing is, if this policy goes on for too long, the best schools in Hà Nội and Hồ Chí Minh City are not getting the best students.”

Many educators and students in urban areas have begun venting their dissatisfaction over this “unfair” and “discriminating” policy, arguing that not all urban students are better off than their rural peers. The urban poor are also denied more opportunities, they say.

Responding to an educator’s oped on this issue in the popular online news site, VnExpress, a reader from a disadvantaged group wrote:

“Let’s face it. Do we all believe that one single test can define who is better? IQ is not the only quality defining a person. We now know that we need to factor in other qualities such as EQ and the ability to overcome difficulties. Can you tell me that only those who score high marks in this exam can be good physicians tomorrow?”

He went on to say that if the policy has to be changed and no add-on points are given to disadvantaged groups, public school teachers should be rotated to teach in remote areas.

“Five years ago, as I finished high school, I took the bus from Sa Thầy District, a far-flung and poor district in Kon Tum Province (in the Central Highlands) to Quy Nhơn City for an emergency training course for college, because at my high school, our teachers could only make sure their students pass the high school test.

“I was so happy because the teachers I got to learn from in Quy Nhơn were so great. I wished I could have studied with them earlier. I had paid attention at school, but what I couldn’t understand for months was resolved within two hours sitting in this class in Quy Nhơn!

“My opinion is that there are so many factors that affect disadvantaged students and we will not be able to give all students an equal opportunity by lifting the add-on points policy.”

If we look outside our country at educational institutions in developed countries, they have scholarship programmes or financial aid for students from developing countries.

Over the years, thousands of students from less developed countries have been able to study in developed countries with a better education system and then return to work in their home countries.

Many of them stay on, but it’s their personal choice and a policy or a scholarship programme cannot interfere with such a decision.

The student who missed out on his dream by a fraction of a point can still go to another school, and if he’s really good, he will do well, and this experience will make him stronger. I hope this is the case, because if his aim is to become a doctor, it is not enough that he is smart. To be able to save other people’s lives, you have to be strong enough to overcome adversities that crop up in life. — VNS 

 

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