The kindergarten in Hà Nam Province where three children suffered critical burns in a fire safety class on Saturday. Photo thethaovanhoa.vn
It's been a bleak week for Vietnamese schools, parents and their children.
A boy was found dead in a school van on August 6, suspected of being forgotten by the caretaker and locked inside the vehicle.
People wasted no time to share posts and tips about how crucial it was to train children life-saving skills. Parents promised to teach their kids or to enrol them in survival skill classes.
Less than 48 hours later, three children in Hà Nam Province suffered critical burns in a class at their kindergarten which, ironically, was supposed to teach them how to escape safe from a fire. The accident poured cold water on the craze for life-saving skills and called into question what safe skill training was.
The teacher, who allegedly caused the fire, was confirmed by a local education official to have received training from police and a certificate on fire prevention and fire escape skills. Lessons on how to exit a burning building are also part of the official life-saving skill teaching guidelines for kindergartens issued by the Ministry of Education and Training. So what could have gone wrong?
Too vague, too wrong
According to the guidelines, fire escape skills can be taught to kindergarten children of senior class in lessons of 30 -35 minutes long.
The lessons aim to equip the kids with basic escape skills, teach them what fire is and what it can do, as well as fire prevention tips and proper responses in case of fire.
This general framework leaves lots of space for teachers to come up with creative ideas to teach kids, but is too vague to prevent them from crossing the line.
HCM City’s May 19 Kindergarten principal Nguyễn Thị Bạch Yến said her school had lessons on fire prevention and escape as required by the ministry.
“For example when teaching fire escape skills, teachers will create fake smoke to let kids know how to move low or how to correctly use CO2 fire extinguishers,” Yến told Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) newspaper.
Most of the lessons involve setting up mock fire scenarios, she added, though she admitted such scenarios largely depend on how teachers design them.
A risky teacher willing to use real fire for realistic effects like in the unfortunate incident in Hà Nam could result in disaster.
Nguyễn Bá Minh, head of the Kindergarten Education Department of the Ministry of Education and Training told media that the ministry “did not ask (the kindergartens) to conduct life-saving skill training that is yet to be assessed (by the ministry) and did not encourage life-saving skill training which did not guarantee the safety of the children.”
While confusing that the ministry granted full power to teachers and still asked for authority, it is true that the ministry should seriously consider tightening its watch over such skill courses.
Instead of issuing vague guidelines, the ministry can clearly work out rules for teachers to ensure safety when conducting such classes. It can also require schools to set up a safety committee to oversee and prepare all life-saving skill courses or drills.
Out of control
The Hà Nam incident raised the alarm about how survival skills were being taught in schools, but also gave a warning to parents and authorities over the lucrative business of offering survival skill courses.
Several survival skill centres have sprung up in big cities over the last few years selling courses claiming to help children be more confident and independent in life.
Dr Ngô Xuân Điệp, head of the Psychology Faculty of the HCM City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, questioned the quality of such facilities.
He told Thanh Niên (Young People) that many centres registered their business with the local Department of Planning and Investment for an operating licence in the educational field, and designed their courses without any assessments from the education ministry.
“It’s crucial whether a course is science-based and age-appropriate,” Điệp said.
Modern Vietnamese parents are not all about studying like previous generations. They care more about the overall well-being of their kids, which is why soft, survival and life-saving skills courses are often packed with youngsters attending, especially in summer. They are supposed to help parents feel assured their kids can look after themselves, and help kids be able to do so.
But lax management could turn everything upside down in the blink of an eye. It happened in Hà Nam. And it might happen again if nothing is fixed soon. Three young kids in critical condition is already too high a price for the faults of us adults. — VNS