Vietnamese student on the starting line of start-up race

September 30, 2019 - 09:28

At the age of 22, when she was still an undergraduate at the Hà Nội-based British University Việt Nam, Trần Khánh Trang led SEN School which provides consultancy services, English and life skills training via online courses and summer camps for two years.

Trần Khánh Trang (second left) talks with students at Vinh University’s High School for the Gifted in Nghệ An Province on presentation skills during her voluntary trip to high schools in central Việt Nam. — VNS Photo Khoa Thư

Khoa Thư

HÀ NỘI — Trần Khánh Trang closes the lid of her laptop after a long discussion with her human resources team, ending just another ordinary day in her life.

At the age of 22, when she was still an undergraduate at the Hà Nội-based British University Việt Nam, Trang led SEN School for two years.

The school, which provides consultancy services, English and life skills training via online courses and summer camps in both Việt Nam and Singapore, has started paying for itself.

It was August 2017 when Trang laid the first brick for her very own SEN School after working on several educational projects.

Born and raised in Chí Linh, a small town in Hải Dương Province, Trang got her first urban experience after heading to Hà Nội to spend three years at the prestigious Foreign Language Specialised School.

At the time, she was surprised by how big the gap between her English skills and other classmates was.

“It was funny that I spoke English with a local accent while my friends’ English sounded natural and beautiful,” said Trang.

“One of them told me she was taught by her mother at the age of six,” she added.

The difference motivated Trang to reflect on how she and her friends at home learnt foreign languages.

“Limited access to books and audio makes it really hard for local students like us to self-study English,” Trang said. “Teaching methods have not changed that much and I still know many students in Chí Linh who are unable to pronounce basic words, the same as me seven years ago.”

The first SEN School was established in 2017 in Trang’s hometown by a team of native teachers, teaching assistants and a manager with the initial vision to bring equal approaches to English language for rural students.

“The school was the first of its kind in my town and went really well,” she said.

However, nine months later, Trang had to withdraw the team back to Hà Nội.

“The operating expenses were huge,” Trang explained. “We spent most of the budget on travel costs to and from Hải Dương Province, and it just wasn't sustainable.”

“Switching to online was a more favourable path for us.”

For the past two years, SEN has offered educational services including English language training and consultancy for up to 700 students, and organised ten summer camps. There are always 100 to 200 students on the waiting list.

“Starting up is a process of trial and error. SEN School is where I piloted different models. It offered me a foundation to fully express my philosophy and expectation of education,” Trang said.

Entrepreneurial setting

Việt Nam, as well as other ASEAN countries, had an entrepreneurial setting, according to research on future jobs released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in August.

Over 31 per cent of the region’s younger generations are eager to build their own businesses or work for start-ups.

“The result has reflected itself in different research and surveys,” said Santitarn Sathirathai, chief economist of the Singapore-based Sea Group.

“Instead of working for certain companies, many young people show strong desire to play the role of an operator by themselves.”

WEF research has recognised entrepreneurship as the most popular job choice among youths, yet only 25 per cent of respondents wish to become business owners.

Start-ups are a relatively new and exciting concept for Vietnamese youngsters which have been promoted through contests, TV shows and even the Government’s assistance policies.

“The number of start-ups created by students in Việt Nam has witnessed an upward trend recently but still lags behind other countries in the region like Indonesia and Singapore,” said Trang.

 For her, the earlier you start, the more beneficial it is.

“You will learn a lot once you roll up your sleeves and give it a try,” said Trang.

“The business may fall short of your expectations but there is always room for mistakes.”

Justin Wood, WEF head of Asia Pacific, said ASEAN youth had developed a growth mindset and understood the needy to uphold lifelong learning instead of receiving education and training only in their early years.

For a student-entrepreneur like Trang, formal education at school comes second.

“I spend an entire day on working, brainstorming, meeting people and discussing with my team. A day ends only when I turn my laptop off and go to sleep. But I have learned a lot through interaction with new ideas, and at the same time, got to know myself better,” she said.

Only 14.1 per cent of ASEAN youths say they have learned important skills through formal on-the-job training, limiting their potential from being sharpened and unleashed.

“In order to build a bright future for young people, it is critical for governments and businesses to understand their views, concerns, aspirations and priorities,” said Wood.

“I am searching for a mentor myself,” she said. “In its third year, SEN has an opportunity to accelerate. Advice and assistance from someone experienced would really help,” Trang added.

“It's only just begun.” — VNS