Nguyen Lan Dung, senior expert for the National Education System, spoke to Kinh te&Do thi about the challenges the project to bring foreign languages to students is facing.
What are your thoughts on the current teaching and learning of foreign languages within the national education system?
Under the project "Teaching and Learning Foreign Languages in the National Education System Period 2008-2020," approved by the Prime Minister, learning a foreign language will become a major subject for all students from the third to 12th grades.
However, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) has set a target by 2018, English would become a major subject for all students from grade 3 to grade 12 in all 35,000 schools nation-wide.
Time is running out and there remains only three years more to achieve that target. All schools and even the Ministry of Education and Training have pulled their efforts to achieve the target on time, particularly how to have enough English teachers to teach. In addition, there remains quite a lot of work to be done to support English teachers in class, including text books, teaching aids, laboratories and others.
In short, the next three years are a challenging time for the MOET and all schools.
Will you please further elaborate on the shortage of English teachers?
A shortage of English teachers is the most critical problem facing all primary schools in the country. We now have between 17,000-18,000 primary schools nationwide, but we have only about 7,000 English teachers who are government public employees. So, if we want to have enough English teachers for primary school, school masters will have to sign sub-contracts with English teachers who are not on their official payroll list. That's not all. Are all these English teachers qualified professionally? This question remains open without an answer.
In my opinion, it's high time for the government and the Ministry of Home Affairs to get involved to help the MOET solve this thorny problem so that by 2018, we'll have enough English teachers for primary schools. Of course, these teachers are full-time public employees, not contracted teachers.
This is an important factor to ensure the full implementation of the Teaching and Learning Foreign Languages Project from 2008-2020.
Quite many people have complained that after years studying foreign languages at schools, many of them could not communicate in the foreign languages that they had learned in schools. How do you respond to that?
Before giving the answer to that question. Let's ask the question, "Is there a foreign language learning environment available in school?" I'm afraid to say "almost none." If we compare the foreign language capacity of students these days, I would say it is much better than three years ago. It means the language learning environment has been changing considerably in the last three years. I'm confident, in the period 2016-2020, foreign languages will become popular among the population, ranging from government officials to parents and students. This is a positive indication that our teaching and learning foreign languages project will be achieved by 2020.
Don't you think "foreign language clubs" operating in many schools/universities at present have played an important role in raising the English speaking capacity among the community?
At present, up to 70 foreign language clubs are in operation nationwide. But, their quality are not evenly spread. The success of the club depends very much on the club presidents. Some of the most successful clubs I should mention are those in Lao Cai Northern Province and HCM City.
In my opinion, young people, particularly students, are the driving force in promoting foreign language learning in the community.
What about the plan to spread the love of learning foreign languages in rural areas and mountainous regions?
As we all know, the northern province of Lao Cai is a poor province. Yet students there, they love learning foreign languages, particularly those in Sa Pa tourist centre. Of course, to raise the learning and teaching of foreign languages in Viet Nam, we have developed various plans for different areas, such as developed, less developed and least developed regions. On December 28, 2015, we plan to hold a seminar on learning and teaching English in disadvantage regions and provinces. Hopefully, through the seminar, we will be able to wake up the love for foreign languages in all people. — VNS