Are magnet schools too high-pressure?

Update: September, 14/2014 - 17:21

by Bui Quynh Hoa

The beginning of every schoolyear ushers in terrific pressure for students to master the school curricula and perform well in examinations.

At recent meetings between school officials and students' parents at the beginning of this schoolyear, teachers stressed the importance of studying and the increasingly difficult curricula that students were expected to master.

They asked the parents to take extra care of their children's health, ensure that they were diligently studying their lessons at home, and keep in touch with the school to help their children get good grades.

The teachers also argued that the parents' extra efforts could lead to their children's enrolment in magnet high schools which are recognised for having strong academic programmes and for helping a large number of graduates to enter prestigious universities nationwide.

The fight to enroll their children in magnet high schools at any cost seems to be the obsession of most parents.

"I think it's the best way to help my daughter pass the university entrance examination," said Pham Thi Lan Huong, the parent of an eighth-grade female student of Xuan La Secondary School in Tay Ho District.

"My goal is to help her attend the Ha Noi-Amsterdam High School, one of the best selective high schools in the country, which is recognised for the large percentage of its graduates attending prestigious universities at home and abroad," Huong added.

"If my daughter could do it, the door to universities will open for her, and a happy and brilliant future awaits her," Huong added. "There are only two more years left for her to prepare for this. To me, it's a fierce fight, and I'll try my best to support her, no matter how hard it takes and how much it costs."

Nguyen Tue Phuong, the parent of a ninth-grade male student of Ngo Gia Tu Secondary School in Long Bien District, agreed with Huong.

"My son is good in English, so I want him to attend the Foreign Language School, a national public magnet in Ha Noi which specialises in foreign languages and also has a large percentage of graduates attending prestigious universities," Phuong said.

"Of course, I have already sent him to the school's preparatory classes for universities for a year. If you want your child to pass a selective high school's entrance exams, you must find special tutor courses for him or her that are handled by teachers right from that school. Studying at a normal school is never enough for exams," she added.

According to Phuong, it is difficult to attend such classes, usually offered to groups of 20 students twice a week for a steep price: about VND300,000-400,000 (US$15-20) per person for two hours.

Also, class regulations are quite strict. Students who are absent at least thrice a month are expelled from the class. This is why Phuong had to replace a high-paying job for one that offered much lower pay. This gave her the time she needed to meet and see her son off to the private tutor classes.

Although parents and teachers face lots of difficulties, it is the students who bear the most.

"I enjoyed many new things and had fun with friends in my native village during my last summer vacation," said Bui Thanh Tung, a sixth-grade student of Ly Thuong Kiet Secondary School.

"It's so great, and I wish the summer holiday would be longer, but it's over now. I have to come back to the pressure of whole-day studying. The new school year has just begun and the teachers have already given me lots of homework. When I arrive home, my parents also keep reminding me about having to pass entrance exams to attend a selective high school. According to them, that's the only way to enter the unversities' gates. It's really a lot of pressure for me. It's just the beginning of the new school year, but I do feel exhausted already," Tung revealed.

Studying is always a good thing for everyone to do everytime. It's a universal truth. Studying in an advanced environment like that of selective prestigious schools is perfect, but it's terrible for us to ask our children to study in wrong or unsuitable ways. Achieving success doesn't require a person to study to death.

A good number of first laureates of national universities didn't come from selective high schools. Some came from rural areas and didn't have any opportunity to enroll in advanced classes offered in big cities. Some even had no money to buy books and notebooks. But they did overcome their challenges and became successful as students.

One example is Tran Van Cuong from the central province of Ha Tinh who got highest marks in the exam to the Ho Chi Minh City Polytechnic University this year.

"My family is a poorest household in the province's Trung Le Village," Cuong said. "My father suffered from heart disease and dementia for 10 years. The burden of raising our family was placed on my mother's skinny shoulders. She earned only VND20,000 (nearly $1) from selling vegetables every day, and that was not enough for a family with seven mouths to feed. So letting me attend three years of high school was the best she could do for me."

"There are no secret ways to become a first laureate. I have no secrets. I just have a thorough grasp of basic lessons I learned from school. I also had no extra tutor class," he added.

Another example is Doan Thi Thu Ha, a first laureate of Quang Nam University. "My family fell into poverty ever since my dad's death," Ha said. "After school, I worked all day in the rice fields. I could only find time for my studies while I was taking care of cover or cooking feed for pigs."

Studying in selective high schools with strong academic programmes could pave the way to success, but children who do so also face a high risk of suffering from stress, depression or even mental diseases.

Normally, upon giving birth, a mother want to know if her baby is fine. Her happiness becomes complete only if she sees her doctor smile and say the baby is indeed fine.

In their efforts to raise their children, parents experience numerous difficulties and challenges. So why do they have to turn normal, or even pretty and clever babies, into unusual ones who have to risk becoming depressed or mentally ill in school?

Perhaps parents expect too much of their children. Sometimes their expectations are beyond the capabilities of their children. It is normal for parents who want their children to succeed at school and in life, become rich and famous and attain an exalted position in society.

No one is perfect, not even us, the students' fathers and mothers. So why do we require too much of our little sweet hearts? Let's give them a beautiful and pure childhood without the nightmare of exhaustive studying. Let's love them more, try to understand them, throw away all sky-high expectations and pressure.

With our love and best efforts, I believe we'll find the best and most suitable way for them, and step by step, they'll be better and surely be successful at school and in life. — VNS