Dr Choi Young-suk, a South Korean expert on children with disabilities, retired in 2010 to spend her time educating hearing-impaired children in Viet Nam's Lam Dong Province. The former DaeGu University professor spoke to Thu Huong Le about her work in Viet Nam's Central Highlands province.
Inner Sanctum: What motivated you to come to Viet Nam and teach children with hearing impairment?
When I first visited the Lam Dong School for the Hearing-Impaired in 2005, I got to know first-hand of the situation of children with hearing impairment in Viet Nam, particularly the use of hearing-aid equipment, teaching conditions and the curriculum.
I was really touched by the dedication of Nguyen Thi Nhan, a teacher who was at the time the deputy principal of the school. Beginning in 2008, I often spent two to three days every January to organise numerous volunteer activities for the school. At the time, I was seriously considering coming here to teach permanently.
In July 2009, on the occasion of 100 years of education for the hearing-impaired in South Korea, I was really touched by the story of Missionary Rosetta Sherwood Hall, who went to Korea in 1898 and built a school for the mute and hearing-impaired there.
I also want to spend the rest of my years educating children with hearing impairment in Lam Dong.
In 2009, I invited the deputy director of the Lam Dong Department of Education and the principal and vice principal of Lam Dong School for the Hearing-Impaired to visit Busan and learn more about South Korea's special education model. I believe that our unified efforts will help improve the quality of special education in Lam Dong in particular and Viet Nam in general.
Inner Sanctum: How have your experiences supported you in working with children with hearing impairment in Viet Nam?
I graduated from DaeGu University in South Korea with a bachelor's degree in special education and received my master's degree in kindergarten education from an institution under the University. I'm also preparing my doctor's thesis on special education in Viet Nam.
I have spent more than 30 years in South Korea in various positions, working with children with hearing impairment and teaching at the university about this field. My activities in South Korea have helped me a lot in Viet Nam.
For example, for children under three years of age and those between four and five years of age, we integrate activities such as cooking, soap-making and visiting the market, park and farm to enable them to practice their language skills.
I want to stress that, first, it is important to educate their personalities. We can only do so if we are dedicated to this work and if we provide the children with love and encourage them to think positively.
Second, we need to coach them in hearing, pronunciation and language to help them overcome their deficiencies. If we can somehow help them to partly recover their sense of hearing, then it will become easier to get them into the normal programme.
Third, we must support them with proper vocational training so they can become good members of society. These students deserve the chance to receive the benefits of special education.
Inner Sanctum: Why do you think special education is not receiving as much attention as it should in Viet Nam?
I can see why. Like Viet Nam, South Korea also suffered from wars and originally faced lots of economic problems. Along with economic growth and further investments, education for the disabled received more attention.
A good number of educators from the United States and Canada came to South Korea years ago and invested much in educational facilities, teaching materials and equipment for the children. In 1997, a Law on Special Education was passed in South Korea which provided a foundation for supporting children with disabilities.
In Viet Nam, along with economic growth, more attention will be given to special education for children with disabilities, especially in a country where parents care so much about education for their children.
Inner Sanctum: Can we have more special education centres such as the one in Lam Dong and replicate them in Viet Nam?
The special education centre we have in Lam Dong plays an important role in supporting the diagnosis of children's symptoms. It organises the children into appropriate age groups, supports them and their teachers and provides them with vocational training.
In South Korea, there are about 187 centres for special education, and I know this is just starting in Viet Nam.
Last January, special educators from South Korea came to Lam Dong to implement pilot sessions for special educators here, and it was a great chance for exchanging ideas and information.
Last July, nine special educators from South Korea held a successful conference featuring an exchange of ideas on the teaching of children with disabilities. It attracted 321 Vietnamese teachers and educators from all levels.
The special education centre is really necessary. I hope there will be more of that in Viet Nam. There is an extreme shortage of special educators in this country, and there should be specialised teachers for each kind of disability. With dedication, we can help them achieve their potential to become good members of society. — VNS