by Nguyen Minh Thu
|Teamwork at play: The ABS Training Centre and volunteers from the Coc Coc Coc arts club help pupils prepare their special Mid-autumn show, during which they learn communication, leadership and other skills. — File photo|
Passers by couldn't help but wonder what had put the beautiful smile on Nguyen Minh Chau's face on her way to school on a Wednesday morning. The 11-year-old girl looked like she couldn't wait for her first class to begin as she skipped along in her dance shoes. Maths? Literature? Art? Well, you can do better than that. Life skills class.
Chau's school, the Thanh Xuan Trung elementary school is one of the first elementary schools in Ha Noi to provide an educational programme of life skills for pupils. The children are taught how to communicate with others, how to take care of themselves and how to handle difficulties they may face in life.
"It's not difficult to see the difference between Vietnamese pupils and those from other countries. Our pupils have great potential - smart and hardworking, I want to help them see how great they really are and be confident enough to express themselves to others," said the school headmistress Dinh Thuy Duong.
That day, Chau learnt how to behave when you visit a friend in hospital. She played the role of a doctor in a scene in which everybody in the class took part.
"Remember, you're not supposed to make noise in public places, especially in hospitals, it will disturb everyone. People have to rest or they won't get better," quoted Chau as she finished her lines.
When asked about what she had learned from the lesson, Chau shared: "My friends and I acted out a visit to the hospital. Now we know how to say hello to the patient, ask if he is getting better and how long he has been treated, and wish him a speedy recovery."
"Life skills play a very important role in our lives. In developed countries, life skills have been part of the school curriculum for a long time. However, it is still a relatively new subject in Ha Noi. Many parents even consider them unnecessary. The truth is, there is a big difference between a child who is equipped with life skills and one who is not," said Doctor Tran Boi Lan, psychological consultant from ABSTraining, a life skills training centre .
"Last year when I decided to apply the programme as an extracurricular activity at school, I received a lot of negative responses from parents. I asked professors from ABSTraining to organise a seminar to put everyone minds at rest and subsequently, the life skills classes had a successful year," shared Duong.
Ngo Duc Tuan, father of an eight-year-old boy in Vo Thi Sau elementary school, had a different point of view. "I don't think these classes are necessary. Children have too many subjects to learn these days, and a lot of homework to handle. Plus, as you can see, without life skills classes, people like us have been doing fine."
"The thing is," Duong responded, "life skills are not complicated like many parents imagine. They are simple skills like how to talk to elders, who to ask if you get lost, how to eat or drink properly at a party, how to react if a stranger touches you, etc. We all know them but not all of us can teach them to our children. That's why classes like these are really working. Children are learning in an advanced environment as well as from their friends."
"I'm surprised to see how much my son has improved after just two or three classes. He is now willing to fold and put away his own clothes and clear up his toys after playing with them. He even asked me if I was tired after work. I was so touched and happy," said a second grader's mother.
Duong herself has a 14-year-old daughter who is often compared to her cousin of the same age.
"She felt inferior to her cousin in her studies, music and sport. I told her that she had her own strong points but it didn't help much. I enrolled her in a life skills course at Tam Viet centre. That changed everything. She even taught her sister how to make a good presentation," said Duong.
Through activities such as role-plays, problem solving and working in groups, the children can cultivate their skills whilst having fun, without feeling the burdens that accompany other subjects. In the school year 2009-2010, the school organised a special fair for the pupils. They brought their old belongings that were still in good condition and each class set up its own "shop". The children evaluated their goods and then went shopping. They learnt the interesting and valuable lessons of teamwork, marketing, communication and their responsibilities to the community.
"I have changed a lot for the benefit of our son. Once he caught me throwing a paper bag onto the street and told me not to do so anymore. I was so embarrassed, but really proud of my boy," said a parent.
Earlier this year, a mother and her son died in a building fire. This tragedy might have been avoided if people had the proper skills to deal with such a critical situation.
"Instead of pushing and trampling over others, people would have remained calm, tried their best to crawl on the floor and used wet towels to cover their mouths and noses. Simple as it is, 90 per cent of our citizens do not know about this," said Lan.
"If pupils are taught how to react in these special cases, they would be confident, and more importantly, able to protect themselves in any situation," said Lan.
Starting this year, the Ministry of Education and Training plans to introduce life skills as a compulsory part of the school curriculum. The programme aims to raise pupils' self-esteem and equip them with crucial skills such as communication, presentation and teamwork.
It is important to understand literacy and numeracy but it is no less important to differentiate right and wrong and know how to set one's own goals and pursue them. Children are just like blank pages. What we write on them is our choice. If we do it right, there will be more and more children, like Chau, smiling beautifully and confidently, waiting for another exciting class. — VNS