Monday, December 6 2021


Has our liberal education gone too far?

Update: October, 24/2021 - 07:53


Illustration by Trịnh Lập

 by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

It has been five years since the Ministry of Education and Training's Direction No 30 eliminated the grading system in the country's public primary schools, so that students now just get a pass, fail or distinction.

Recently an educator, Vũ Thu Hương, from Hà Nội's Teachers' College warned that the so-called "advisory education" has gradually been damaging the younger generation. 

"Our approach to our youth’s education of only advising them to do things, without any punishment, has slowly been destroying them," Hương said.

The blunt remarks, reported across the country's major media outlets, have been met with fiery protests from parents. 

"No punishments," an education approach that is new to our education methods, is a trend for children not to be punished for wrongdoing either at school or at home.

However, this approach has gone too far, with children often not even verbally admonished for misbehaviour or a lack of effort.

The Vietnamese traditional approach of "love a child, use the rod", is no longer applauded by any sides involved, either conservative or more liberal.

Parents who beat their children are now criticized. Harsh acts of punishment like slashing rulers on children, making them kneel in the schoolyard for hours in the scorching sun, or allowing other children to finger-point those who have made a mistake are now all seen as unacceptable across the board.

But since this "happy-go-lucky" approach has become prevalent, teachers have tended to be too soft on their students, weary of getting into trouble with the school administration or parents. Many students are left feeling they are beyond discipline.

Since the directive was introduced in schools, educators have voiced concern that children do not want to study, teachers have resorted to a no grades approach, and parents are reluctant to make their children do any homework, even if it is just half an hour self-study or reading at home. 

Some powerful or cunning parents even try to influence schools to get special treatment for their children, or come to their rescue if they have been moderately disciplined or assigned a simple, manageable task.

This, quite simply, is not good for any child.

The educational approach to send a child happily to school is not entirely new to our public schools. Back in the early 1980s, professor and pedagogue Hồ Ngọc Đại introduced the motto, "Everyday at school is a happy day", which many schools took as their mantra and continue to do so today.

Children who go to such schools are confident they can make mistakes, and are not afraid to give their opinions, but they do not bring home top scores. And that's totally fine for parents who do not pressure their children to gain at least 8 or 9 out of a 10-point scale.

We need to make it clear that disciplining a child is a more appropriate method than punishment. Even at an early age, they need to know the consequences of their action and behaviour.

If they spill the food or destroy friend’s possessions, they need to clean up the mess, and make suitable amends. If they forget to do their homework, they need to sit down, finish it and turn it in for evaluation. 

Since sending both my children to public primary schools, I know I owe a profound gratitude to their teachers, who were all very different. Some were very dedicated in the old way, the harsh way, but they were devoted and loved their students enough to discipline them. Others took a more liberal approach.

Parents need to trust teachers to have authority in their environment. But they also need not to rely on teachers to do everything. Many things are the job of parents not teachers.

"Parents play a key role shaping our children's character and future," a parent recently told me. "If we parents spoil our kids to make them feel they are untouchable, the child cannot be taught."

Whilst I fully agree with this, I freely admit teaching a child is much easier said than done.

You know that you need to keep your temper and be calm. You know that you're not supposed to say hurtful words. But we make mistakes, especially when it's hard at work or your life is going through a crisis. We do not always make the right decisions. Parents cannot always be perfect.

Today, children are exposed to too many things at once: violence on TV, negative internet content, international trends. Much of this, the parents are not even aware of.

Kids pick up bad habits and regard things as "kul" much faster and easier than the sensible yet boring clichés and advice handed down by parents and teachers.

Children have a tendency to go against all that they've been told, and have their own way of doing things. 

When I lamented about my problems getting my children to do something right and good for them, a senior colleague told me frankly: "Nice words never worked. They would never follow your advice. You can be soft on them on most things, but when their safety is concerned, you need to prove it the hard way.

“If you tell your child not to mess with the electricity plugs, they will ignore you. But if push their hand toward the plug with a serious looking face, they would definitely resist you and never try to mess with it." 

Well, this is not a technique I ever tried but, thinking back, it was good advice, and I am sure it could work in other circumstances.

Instead, I bought plug covers and taped all the plugs in the house when the children were small, so I didn't have to play that dangerous game. 

But sometimes, even when you know what is right for your child, it is worth holding back and letting them find out for themselves instead of telling them what to do. Why give them the opportunity to oppose you and challenge your patience?

We all need to let children know the consequences of their actions and teach them to be responsible for them from a young age, even if it is for just a small act like cleaning up spilt milk. VNS



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