|Hands on: An instructor from the Empower Junior Scientists project illustrates global warming impacts to children through a simple experiement. — Photos courtesy of the Empower Junior Scientists project
by Lan Dung
At 4.15pm on Wednesday, the bell rings, signalling the end of classes at the Tran Nhat Duat Primary School in Ha Noi City's Hoan Kiem District.
Pham Hai Nam, a student of Class 4C, immediately takes his backpack and runs to the fourth floor to attend a 90-minute weekly class in which he can do interesting scientific experiments.
Nam is one of 100 underprivileged students in Ha Noi, participating in free science classes in a youth-organised project named Empower Junior Scientists. The project is initiated and carried out by Vietnamese youngsters who took part in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Programme sponsored by the US Department of State.
This is the only Vietnamese project among 50 outstanding global projects to be sponsored by the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund of the US Department of State in 2014. The project aims at bringing science closer to Vietnamese kids, especially those living in difficult situations.
Since September 2014, disadvantaged kids have learned about natural phenomena, botany, geology and global warming, as well as other fields of science, and have done experiments supervised by instructors from Science Made Fun Viet Nam.
In school, Nam is taught just theoretical knowledge of science and nature via textbooks, and has not done any experiments. Therefore, he is very enthusiastic in the free classes where he can conduct experiments and even take products home. On being asked about the most interesting thing he has done in the free classes, he says with a smile, "Making a volcano."
"It is not difficult to make it. I sometimes have done it at home when I borrow tools from my friends to do the experiments. My parents are so poor that they cannot buy them for me," Nam adds.
Like Nam, Le Thao Ngan, a Class 4A student of the Ly Thuong Kiet Primary School in Long Bien District, often goes to science classes early. She says that the lessons are very exciting with the experiments that she does herself.
"At school, we learn about the characteristics of water and foods rich in vitamins. Here we know about the difference between storms and tornados and can make a miniature storm ourselves," she adds.
|Sorting stuff: Children at the Tran Nhat Duat Primary School in Ha Noi City's Hoan Kiem District learn to classify waste.
Having instructed students in the project classes, Science Made Fun Viet Nam's Nguyen Thi Hang says that the children are very curious and have huge imaginations, and that the curriculum inspires in them confidence and passion for science.
"I am very surprised at the love for science among the students and how excellent they are in the subject. It's easy for children to lose concentration, but the interesting content of the curriculum keeps their attention," she says.
Before the science classes were organised, the members of the project introduced the parents of the selected children to the content of the lessons and documents. The parents found it new and interesting, and all allowed their children to attend the six-month classes.
Do Ngoc Khang, father of a fourth grader at the Tran Nhat Duat School, comes to pick up his son every Wednesday. He says that he allowed his child to attend the project class because it could improve his thinking.
"He is very interested in the class. At home, he tells me a lot about what he has learned and what experiments he has done. He is different from what he was before, thinking faster and becoming more dynamic," he adds.
"I think that there should be more investment in science, especially for elementary school children."
Seeing the involvement of the students in the project, Vice Principal of the Ly Thuong Kiet Primary School Nguyen Thi Yen understands their excitement and development.
"The science classes help several children in learning other subjects because they are suitable to the physiology and psychology of children," she says.
"They are very interested in doing science experiments such as growing trees from seeds, and observing and recording their growth."
Yen also expresses her expectation of organising science classes for all students at the school, and not only for poor kids.
"If it becomes a reality, parents will need to pay a small amount to help run the classes," she adds.
Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hai, project supervisor at the Ly Thuong Kiet School, says that while some children are still shy in classes, they draw creative and lovely drawings in their notebooks. She says that the classes have increased the children's demands for expressing themselves and their scientific creativity.
Besides the aforementioned schools, free classes are also held at the Thai Thinh Primary School in Dong Da District and the Tay Son Primary School in Hai Ba Trung District.
In addition to the weekly classes, the project holds science camps in elementary schools in four provinces. In October last year, the first camp was organised at the Ngo Quyen Primary School in Vinh Phuc Province. The second camp was held at Yen Phu Primary School in Bac Ninh Province in December, attracting the participation of 250 students. — VNS