Primary schools lack English teachers

Update: December, 12/2011 - 15:56


by Minh Chau

In its second year, English teaching primary schools in a pilot programme face a severe lack of teachers. In HCM City’s District 3, mother Le Quynh Thu says, “The school has changed English teachers many times within the first five weeks - I don’t even know who the English teachers are.”

Another mother, in District 8, Tran Phu Nghia says, “My son was scheduled for English lessons, but hasn’t yet had any because there are no teachers.”

This school year is the second of the English teaching pilot programme in primary schools, but many schools cannot find qualified English teachers.

A recent examination of primary school English teachers’ ability showed a low percentage who satisfy the B2 standards, which equals 500 points in the TOEFL classification or 6.0 points in IELTS. Deputy Minister of Education and Training Nguyen Vinh Hien has admitted that Viet Nam not only lacks English teachers for primary schools, but also has broader problems of foreign language ability and pedagogy.

English teachers in Viet Nam are often trained to teach secondary level or higher, so primary schools lack professionals with the skills to teach younger pupils, according to Laura Grassick, director of Programme Development ELT for the British Council.

Grassick says at primary school age, students are unaware of the importance of learning, so teachers have to create excitement through “learn and play” activities in groups or pairs. Grassick says teachers should split classes into groups according to English levels to prevent excellent students from dominating the class.

Some schools actually have no regular English teachers for this school year. They are unable to find qualified teachers or are not offering attractive enough salaries.

With a lack of teachers, many schools in HCM City and Ha Noi have been following different English teaching programmes. They use intensive courses, the Cambridge English teaching programme or other extracurricular programmes.

The headmaster of Tran Quoc Thao Primary School in HCM City’s District 3, Tran Ngoc Van, says his school now has 13 qualified English teachers on one-year contracts. However finding teachers is unpredictable and qualifications differ, so the school has not taken part in the pilot programme.

According to Nguyen Dat Su, vice-headmaster of HCM City’s Luong Dinh Cua Primary School, the school cannot recruit any more English teachers due to their low budget of VND30,000 per period.

Hoang Manh Hung, from a foreign language centre in HCM City’s District 3, said the centre signed a contract to supply English teachers to primary schools in the region, but warned that finding qualified teachers for primary schools with such a low payment was hard.

Phung Thi Hoang Yen, from the Education and Training Department of the northern province of Phu Tho also says many schools in the area were seriously lacking English teachers. Because of this, they were unable to implement the pilot programme.

The head of HCM City’s Primary Schools’ Education and Training Department, Le Ngoc Diep, says “Although the city has implemented intensive English language training since 1998, we can not immediately find teachers at the B2 standard.”

Head of Ninh Binh Province’s Education and Training Department Nguyen Quoc Nam says, “We just conducted the pilot English teaching programme in some primary schools last year because the province has only one teacher who satisfied the B2 standards.”

Although many teachers signed contracts with the school, they were not given a classroom allowance, and had little attachment to their jobs. In Ha Noi, there are about 1,400 foreign language teachers, but only 719 are regular personnel in schools.

The effectiveness of this training programme has been difficult to ensure, with the level of teachers and students hard to gauge and producing skewed results.

Su says many pupils were studying in language centres and suggests the schools initially test pupils to determine their level. Also, class sizes should be limited to 20-25 students.

The country needs more than 6,000 English teachers each year to properly run the programme, with HCM City in need of 200-300 English teachers for primary schools.

However, according to head of English Faculty of HCMCity Teacher’s Training University Nguyen Ngoc Vu, opening a primary school English teaching course was still waiting on ministerial approval. Most classroom English teachers are trained in teaching to a range of levels, and attain short-term certificates for primary school teaching methods.

Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan has instructed the Ministry of Education and Training to set up a legal educational framework which allows primary school English teachers to become regular members of a school’s staff, which offers more job security. — VNS