Got to start looking up to kindergarten teachers

February 10, 2017 - 09:00

Expressions of anguish and outrage came in thick and fast as two young teachers of the Sen Vàng Kindergarten in Hà Nội, both in their early 20s, were recorded using slippers to slap and beat children, and scolding them rudely and cruelly.

By Hồng Minh

Kindergarten teachers are seen as children’s “second mothers.”

When the mothers, who are expected to nurture and nourish the kids and ensure a well-cared for, happy infant-hood, end up abusing the children instead, our pain and outrage becomes unbearable.

Expressions of anguish and outrage came in thick and fast as two young teachers of the Sen Vàng Kindergarten in Hà Nội, both in their early 20s, were recorded using slippers to slap and beat children, and scolding them rudely and cruelly.

It is high time we looked beyond our immediate outrage and pain, so what we can identify some crucial aspects of a really serious problem.

In every instance of such child abuse coming to light, it has been video clips posted online going viral that have alerted us to the horrifying abuse. This means that behind the scenes, many, many children are being badly mistreated, scarring them for life, psychologically.

Yes, we can talk about punishing people, issuing fines and sending people to jail, but have all these steps solved the problem? Public outrage and responses to such outrage are not enough.

In all cases that have come to light, the teachers have been fired, kindergartens inspected and some closed down. And while authorities at the local level deal with the cases as and when they arise, I am yet to hear of top officials at any level come up with a different, more insightful analysis or solution.

Let’s look deeper

When the increasing instances of child abuse at kindergartens is identified as the problem, the blame is typically laid on the lack of investment for preschool education system, the pressure on public kindergartens, the licensing of private ones, and so on.

There is no doubt that official approval of ill-equipped kindergartens, and even unqualified staff is a problem. It is also a problem that several kindergartens are operating without licences, reflecting poor management by administrations.

The latest statistics from the Ministry of Education and Training say that of 6,000 private kindergartens in the country, only 3,800, or 65 per cent, are licensed.

But there is a deeper aspect of the quality of kindergarten teachers that I want to highlight there. It is not just an academic issue, it is also a social one, and has to be recognised as such.  

Nguyễn Trọng An, Deputy Chief of the Labour Ministry’s Child Protection and Care Department, said on Thursday that the reason for child abuse in cases like the Sen Vàng Kindergarten is the teachers’ lack of love for children.

Obvious. But what do we, as a people, not a system, require of our kindergarten teachers?

I asked an educator from Japan what it is like to be a kindergarten teacher in his country. He said that in Japan, a kindergarten teacher’s job is one that is well respected, with training of up to seven years required, like that of a doctor.

To become an early-year teacher, applicants must have to be a graduate from a Government school or pass a national test; and attend a number of training courses in education psychology, philosophy, music, arts and even sports.

Becoming a kindergarten teacher in France, the US, or the UK also requires several qualifications.

Do we value them?

I am not arguing that all these qualifications and requirements have to be made mandatory in Việt Nam. I am saying that our view of and attitude towards kindergarten teachers have to change.

A kindergarten teacher, in our society, is seen as someone having to accept a low-paid job because she/he is poorly educated.

I have a neighbour whose son is getting married. When she invited neighbours to her son’s wedding and was asked about the bride, she said, only half in jest: “She works at kindergarten, so she cannot be rich or highly educated.”

If we, as a society, look down on kindergarten teachers, do they not know it? What is the incentive they have to do an outstanding job?

So this fundamental problem has to be tackled at two levels. We need to expect more from our kindergarten teachers and we have to respect them in acknowledgement of the important job they have to do.

If we reflect on how we have ended up entrusting our children in the hands of people who cannot even hold their temper and refrain from hitting infants, we can see that our own attitude and expectations are a problem.

If we think about it, kindergarten teachers must have the highest requirements. They should have soft skills, experience, knowledge of child psychology, awareness that pre-school years are the most important stage of a child’s growth. Isn’t this what is needed of who we call the “second mother?”

So, it is time that authorities find ways to improve the quality of kindergarten teachers, by raising both requirements and benefits.

Ask more of them, pay them more, and give them the respect they are due. — VNS