by Thu Van
After the issuance of the Government's decree on education reform late last year, a leader of the country's education sector, while admitting that the education sector still had many weaknesses, called for the public to trust in the cause to carry out an "overhaul" of the sector.
Six months later, thousands of parents in the country's biggest city – Ho Chi Minh City, find themselves puzzled and confused over the suspension of a foreign language teaching programme that their children had been attending for four years, the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education.
They were also shocked by a statement made by the British Consul General in HCM City, Douglas Barnes, that there was no agreement between the Department for Education (DfE) or the Standard and Testing Aagency (STA) in the UK and HCM City's Department of Education and Training (DOET). No agreement ever existed between them and EMG Viet Nam, the distributor of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), either.
The reason for the parents' shock was that the statement completely denied the DOET's claim that they were working in co-operation with the DfE and that they had worked with the British department since December 2011 on the development of the programme.
EMG's representatives also gave out a document which they insisted was the certificate recognised by the STA. However, Consul General Barnes said it was only proof that EMG had registered to use STA documents, which are online and free.
He also said the DfE and STA would never co-operate with any enterprises, as they were only charged to work at the state level.
It has not been clear to the public whether the city's DOET has anything to hide, but as a state agency, the department should have acted differently.
As a state agency, the department should have carried out proper supervision and management with education programmes being taught in the locality. But as Tracy Dignan, the marketing and communications manager of CIE in Asia-Pacific region said, CIE had stopped co-operation with EMG Viet Nam due to differences in viewpoints about the future of the Cambridge programme.
She said CIE couldn't reach an agreement with EMG Viet Nam because their demands couldn't be satisfied.
After the CIE's decision to stop the co-operation in early June, the DOET announced that it would institute a new integrated English teaching curriculum for school students, with the involvement of EMG Viet Nam, again.
Why on earth should the department choose a company that has been refused further co-operation by CIE to continue with another programme? Worse, after four years, there have been no evaluations of the quality of the teaching programme.
And more importantly, why on earth should the department let a company provide education to its students?
A principal of a secondary school in HCM City that used the Cambridge teaching programme, who chose not to be named, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) Newspaper that the department had sent an announcement to the school in early June about the suspension of the Cambridge teaching programme, but warned the school "not to inform students' parents".
The principal also said that while the school benefited from 15 per cent of the tuition fees collected by EMG, it was an outsider in its own space.
"Though it's the DOET that brought the programme to schools in the city, EMG was assigned with everything: teaching and evaluating teachers. We have no voice in the process," the principal said.
One can only ask: What is going on here?
Parents might hesitate to send their children to private teaching centres, however good they might be. But they feel comfortable with the credentials of the city's Department of Education and Training, which assured them that the teaching programme was in co-operation with the UK's DfE.
They trusted the department. They trusted this state agency.
They had to pay VND3 million (US$141) per month so that their children could join the programme, which they trusted to be provided by a credible entity. It's not a cheap tuition for the majority of Vietnamese, where the average income per capita is less than $100 a month.
They might not regret having to pay the amount over the four years, but they sure regret believing in the education department which is supposed to carry out a sacred mission: providing the best education to students.
And while the department leaders can choose to behave otherwise, they are choosing to continue with their non-transparent approach, trying to vaguely argue away the mistake they've made.
They should know, vague arguments and trying to hide away from the truth is not a good foundation for trust. They could absolutely apologise to people for being irresponsible in fulfilling their task of supervision. If the truth is something else, it will come out sooner or later.
If you don't have the public's trust, you're a failed state agency.
While the department has not yet provided a candid or clear answer for thousands of students, their parents, and all concerned adults, remain extremely worried about the capacity to provide a good education for future generations, in which, honesty must be taught from the get go. — VNS