The education sector needs to be radically reformed, with far less reliance on memorising and cramming. Associate professor Vu Trong Ry, who is also a senior researcher at the Viet Nam Institute of Educational Science, talks with Nhat Minh
about the issue.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us about your recent trip to Australia and what you learnt about their education sector?
I visited my children and grandchildren there and also took the opportunity to study their schools, one of which is a primary school, another is a high school and the other is a university.
Inner Sanctum: As an educationalist, what do you think about their teaching and learning methods?
I find them different from ours. For example, it takes 10 years to finish secondary school in Australia, which is a compulsory educational level offering children the essential general knowledge needed to live in a modern society.
During their high school years, children are classified according to their capacities and aspirations to prepare for further studies in colleges, universities or vocational schools. The subjects are plentiful, but each student only has to choose from four to five compulsory subjects and two other additional ones, so students have their own individual timetables.
I think this method satisfies students' study demands without overloading them like their Vietnamese counterparts.
Inner Sanctum: In terms of the content, did you find it different from Viet Nam's system?
Their homework system is very interesting as it requires students to conduct independent research, rather than relying on material supplied to them by the school. For example, my granddaughter was given a geography assignment to design a village. She was so excited about the topic that she wrote 18 pages for her homework.
Everything is taught thoroughly. For instance, healthcare studies involve each student caring for a doll as if it were a real baby, and learning practical skills such as how to feed it in the correct position. The content may not help them pass university entrance exams, but it will certainly be useful in later life.
Subjects are not taught in the traditional way, instead, children are taught about up to date, relevant issues. For example, geography encompasses environmental change and natural calamities, helping the students engage more with the subject and develop a greater understanding.
Inner Sanctum: Is Australia's educational purpose different from Viet Nam's?
No, it isn't. In general, their education system aims at forming and developing the children's personalities and capacities, and so does Viet Nam's. However, different methods lead to different results. Teaching methods in Viet Nam lean heavily towards cramming and memorising, which fail to stimulate students. They're outdated methods.
Inner Sanctum: In order to change Viet Nam's education system, where should we start?
In my opinion, we should start by thinking renovation. First, it is necessary to have a better understanding of the role of general education in the developing context of the country. General education is the foundation of people's lives.
It is also important to have better awareness of education targets, which aim to form and develop each student's personality and capacity. Vietnamese children are changing with the times, and they are no passive participants under the influence of their schools, doing whatever they are asked to do.
Last but not least, it is crucial to focus on the role of teachers.
Inner Sanctum: Can you expand on the last point?
The State highly appreciates the role of teachers, but that is not enough. Their salaries, allowances and benefits are not enough to ensure a stable life. If they don't have settled lives, how can they settle in their jobs?
Last year, we conducted a survey across five provinces, and found that teaching hours were too long, exceeding State regulations (40 hours per week). More than 50 per cent of 526 teachers surveyed said that they would not become teachers if they had a second chance. The reason lies in the low salary and pressure from schools boards and education departments as well as students and their parents. They are blamed for all their student's mistakes.
Inner Sanctum: These problems have been around for a long time, but remain unsolved. What can be done to remedy this?
I think that an innovative attitude needs to be institutionalised into legal documents and specific policies. A policy to attract talented people to the teaching profession providing them with a stable job and sufficient income after graduation would also help. For example, in South Korea, teachers are paid a good salary and given opportunities to enhance their teaching skills, like having 100 hours per year for self study.
The way to improve teaching is to allow teachers to be more independent, active and creative in order to adapt themselves to changes in general education. — VNS