Legendary educator who inspired millions dies aged 75

September 28, 2022 - 16:55
Nguyễn Ngọc Ký was more than just a teacher. He was a symbol of overcoming adversity and an inspiration to many generations of Vietnamese people.


Former Vice President Nguyễn Thị Doan honouring Nguyễn Ngọc Ký at his house in 2013. — Photo VNA/VNS Phương Vy

Anh Đức

HCM CITY — Long before Nick Vujicic astounded the world, Việt Nam already had its own miracle tale that every Vietnamese person knows: the story of Nguyễn Ngọc Ký.

Nguyễn Ngọc Ký was more than just a teacher. He was a symbol of overcoming adversity and an inspiration to many generations of Vietnamese people.

Born on June 28, 1947, in Hải Hậu, Nam Định Province in the midst of war and poverty, Ký suffered from polio when he was four and both of his arms were permanently paralysed.

When he was seven years old, Ký desperately wanted to go to school like other children. Time and time again, the young boy went to his local school and asked to join the class, but was declined every time.

After his parents repeated requests, the class teacher decided to allow Ký to join the class.

"She let me enter, but she did not believe that I could learn to write like others," said Ký in his autobiography, "Tôi Đi Học" (I Go To School).

However, Ký soon learned how to write - just not like other kids: with his feet. His quest for knowledge did not end there. In 1963, Ký was selected as Hà Nam Ninh (nowadays Nam Định) Province's representative in the national math competition, where he placed fifth.

His success at the competition and his incredible story soon reached President Hồ Chí Minh, who awarded him two medals.

From 1966 to 1970, Ký studied at the Việt Nam National University in Hà Nội, majoring in literature. Then, former Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng suggested he return to Hải Hậu, Nam Định and become a teacher.

Ký found his passion in teaching and inspired many of his students during his time in Hải Hậu. In 1992, he was awarded the title "Meritorious Educator" by the Government to honour teachers and educators with remarkable contributions to education.

From 1994 he moved to Hồ Chí Minh City and worked at a school in Gò Vấp as a consultant until his retirement in 2005. After that, he stayed in HCMC and became a writer and a psychotherapist for students through a hotline.

Nguyễn Ngọc Ký, seen here writing with his foot, has become an inspiration to many generations of Vietnamese. — Photo suckhoedoisong.vn

Ký wrote thirty books, three of them autobiographies documenting his journeys in learning. One of them, 'Tôi Đi Học', was a national best-seller.

In his later life, Ký suffered from kidney failure. He died peacefully on Wednesday morning, aged 75. He is survived by his second wife, Vũ Thị Đậu.

Although Ký has passed away, his legacy has and always will be an inspiration to generations of Vietnamese students.

Excerpts from his autobiography, 'Tôi Đi Học', are used in primary school textbooks. The miraculous story and hardships of a boy who learned to write with his feet remain in the minds of many grade four students — including the writer of this article — and encourage them to persevere and thrive in hardships.

"I was fortunate to be taught by him," said Vũ Lương, Ký's former student and a reporter at Tiền Phong Newspaper. "My teacher, who needed no blackboards nor chalk to teach, has become a national icon of humanitarianism, of resolve." — VNS