Illustration by Trịnh Lập
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
The school year is set to soon begin, and it is clear to millions of students across Việt Nam that their first day back and several weeks after will be held online.
Students in Việt Nam spent last semester studying online from the end of April when the first cases of the fourth coronavirus wave emerged. Students study online, teachers teach online and parents have to adapt to new circumstances by providing new tools for their children to study.
Even teacher-parent meetings are held online. A couple of weeks ago, my children's teachers said that if online work continued this coming semester, parents were advised to purchase a new computer for each child.
"You cannot follow a class on your mobile phone," the teacher said. "Your child will not be able to focus and follow the class if you're all in a car going to your home town or in a place where he or she cannot concentrate and follow what the teacher is saying."
From the teacher's point of view, it's harder for them to gain all the students' attention at the same time.
"It's been tiring as I cannot keep track of all students presented in class," our children's teacher said. "They are easily distracted by other things at home if they're not in a quiet place. They sign up to be checked at first, but then disappear toward the end."
There have been reports saying studying online is hardest for primary and secondary students, as they are still small and cannot concentrate for a long period of time.
But for high school students, we know what they need to do, and it's a good chance for them to focus and self-study. After one semester, those who want to study and those who do not, will show a large gap in final test scores.
The new school year always coincides with the beautiful weather of autumn in the north and the rainy season in the south. It is also the time for Mid-Autumn festival when children have yet another holiday to enjoy before any midterm tests. The autumn full moon has always been a joyful celebration for children across the country.
This Mid-Autumn festival is going to be a most tranquil event now.
The much-anticipated Mid-Autumn lantern procession, a modern-day initiative by the people of Tuyên Quang Province, will have to wait for yet another year.
There will be no more large groups of people gathering to prepare for the full moon under the festival centrepiece. The dragon dance, or the big fat lady procession, will not be happening in any location under lockdown.
But the Mid-Autumn moon will still be there, and each family will still have their own contemplation in quietness and gratitude for what they have accomplished.
In this pandemic, it's not important who has the biggest or most beautiful autumn fruit tray or moon cakes. It is a blessing when you and your family can still be at home, have a meal together and be grateful for being healthy and safe.
It's hard to keep children at home for too long when even adults want to break the rules and escape the local checkpoints by their homes.
It's difficult to explain to children what's going on, what they need to do and what should be incorporated into their daily routines to protect themselves.
"There's something you need to maintain doing," I tried to explain to my teen, who had just finished last year's final exam online.
While I was having difficulties trying to find words, she said, "I know, Mum, we're in lockdown because of the virus. One of my friend's birthday is on September 6th, and she wants to throw a party. But don't worry, I'm not going.
"In our chatroom, some of my friends have been neglected as they think the coronavirus is someone else's problem, and they do not respect social distancing nor lockdown. I cannot convince them to change their minds if their parents tell them otherwise."
It was an answer, not just I, but other parents want to hear. And I believe it was not achieved by just luck. Last month was her best friend's birthday. Though we lived in one apartment complex but two different buildings, we had a serious talk about whether to go to her home for the two-guest private party.
"Her parents have had two shots, and it's just two of us, Mummy, please!"
With all my heart, I wanted her to have a couple of hours chatting and celebrating her friend's birthday, but I had to explain that she could bump into someone in the elevator, who didn't show symptoms. Our complex was safe for now, but we didn't know when someone would be declared a patient.
Above all, we wanted to teach our kids that sometimes, you need to make a sacrifice, not only for your own safety but for your family and community. You need to respect the rules.
Both children were very upset at first, and I had to explain to her mother, who later agreed.
I have promised both the girls that when it's safe to go out and Hà Nội lifts its lockdown, I will let them spend a whole day together, have a picnic, eat as much five-cheese pizza as they possibly can and have a sleepover party.
But for now, we will stay at home, study online and contemplate the full moon when it rises, while making plans for when lockdown is lifted.
We must all be patient, for that day will surely come. VNS