|Ly Thi Dinh, 20, has been a teaching assistant at Xa Nhe kindergarten in Dien Bien's Tua Chua District for five years. — VNS Photo Chi Lan
by Chi Lan
YEN BAI (VNS) — Giang Thi Nu wakes up at 4am everyday to take care of the pigs.
The 20-year-old Mong ethnic woman is then busy with various other morning chores until dozens of noisy schoolchildren gather outside her house.
They urge her to go to school with them.
For the last year, this has been the normal start to the day for Nu, a teaching assistant at the Suoi Giang Boarding Primary School in the northern province of Yen Bai.
"The Vietnamese teachers in my school cannot communicate with the students because they speak different languages. My job is to help the teachers by interpreting the lessons in Mong," Nu said.
Nu has proved her worth in a school where 98 per cent of the students are Mong ethnic children and not fluent in Vietnamese, the language the teachers speak.
"It has become a lot easier for me since Nu's arrival. It usually takes up to one hour to teach one lesson, but with Nu's help, I only need about 40 minutes," said Nguyen Thi Nhu Hoa.
For her part, Nu said: "I am happy with my job. Seeing the students attend classes more regularly, get better grades and become more confident is very rewarding."
Nu's job as a teacher assistant is part of a project carried out by Save the Children, an international non-governmental organisation (INGO), to lift the language barrier between students and teachers in ethnic minority areas.
A similar project has been implemented since 2009 by another INGO, World Vision, in the neighbouring province of Dien Bien.
Ly Thi Dinh, 20, has been a Mong teaching assistant for five years at the Xa Nhe kindergarten in Dien Bien's Tua Chua District.
"There have been many times when teachers ask the students to go wash their hands before eating, but they latter fail to understand. That is when I step in and help," Dinh said.
There are 26 ethnic minority teaching assistants working in ethnic minority communities in eight kindergartens, helping about 700 ethnic children in Dien Bien, according to World Vision.
Before ethnic minority teaching assistants were hired, most children felt heavy pressure studying with Vietnamese teachers.
"I like to go to school but the teacher does not speak my language. Learning is too difficult for me," said Vang Thi Hoa, 1st grade student at Suoi Giang school.
"The teachers all speak Vietnamese in class and it is hard to learn," agreed Giang Thi Ha, a fourth grader in the same school.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen, an official with the Department of Preschool Education under the Ministry of Education and Training, admitted that the biggest obstacle in teaching ethnic minority students was the language barrier between the teachers and the children.
"It is especially hard at kindergartens in remote mountainous areas, where the teachers have to teach classes with students of different ages and different ethnicities," Huyen added.
The language barrier has been identified as a key reason for low school attendance among ethnic minority students who lose their interest in learning.
Statistics compiled by Tua Chua District's Division of Education and Training show that there has been a dramatic change in the school attendance rate among ethnic minority children aged three to five, since the teaching assistant project began.
The rate increased from 26 per cent in 2009 to about 65 per cent in 2012.
"Since we began having teaching assistants, children come to school more often," said Bui Thi Tu, vice principal of the Suoi Giang primary school.
"Having the assistants not only helps students in classes but also in their personal lives," Tu added.
The assistants have also won much support from the students' families.
Liu, a Dao grandmother with two grandchildren attending the Nam Lanh primary school in Yen Bai, said that she liked having teaching assistant Ly Huu Ngan work at the school.
"Ngan helps my grandchildren understand the lessons. Teachers need to use Vietnamese and Dao language to teach the children," she said.
"This project directly helps teachers and students. The teachers teach more effectively while the children like to go to school more and understand lessons better," said Bui Van Dong, an official with Van Chan District's Department of Education and Training in Yen Bai.
"I hope that the successes we have gained in the project can be replicated further, even though it is still in an experimental stage and not yet a government's policy," said Duong Trung Quoc, member of the National Assembly's Committee on Culture, Education, Adolescents, and Children.
World Vision plans to implement a similar project in another remote area in Yen Bai, Tram Tau District, where about 70 per cent of the residents are Mong ethnic people. — VNS