|Illustration by Trịnh Lập|
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
I recently got a phone call from an old acquaintance from Germany, a foster parent to an ethnic Mông young girl from Sa Pa. "Could you tell us your opinion of the education system in Việt Nam?" she asked earnestly.
This German couple did not have biological children but took a teenage girl -- who had been made to work to provide for her parents-- under their wing. The woman is now married with children, and the Germans are concerned about their education.
"Oh, she's afraid her kids cannot study with the best teachers, and when she was a child, she saw the teachers of her schools in the mountains near Sa Pa take money from tourists, meant for children, and keep it for themselves," she said.
This happened at least 10 years ago when the woman was still small, but it was not something she could forget.
Mistreated by her own parents and neglected by teachers during her brief time at school, this young woman is now raising two children of her own and wants to secure them the best future she can.
I gave my German friend the response millions of Vietnamese would give and said I didn't have a clear-cut answer.
A good local public school should be enough for your child anywhere on earth. I believe a good routine for preschoolers or a neighbourhood kindergarten should be enough for a child's needs.
Your kids get to go to a kindergarten, where they can make some friends, have a couple of teachers to take care of them, be given some food, and learn how to wash their hands and faces, and discard the garbage properly. The basics are enough to begin with.
In between these actions, they can learn to draw, to colour in, listen to stories, sing songs, or craft some items. They get to play in the playground, wait for their turn to get something, and do morning or midday exercises. They make good friends during the day, so when they have dinner at home, they can talk about their friends to their parents in the evening. This is a good schooling.
I've seen parents who work too hard to get their children to a school with a good reputation, but the kids have to wake up at 6am, and it takes them an hour to get to school and the same to get back home in the afternoon. It is too long and stressful for a young child. Getting woken up too early, the kids fall asleep again on the bus. When they get to school, they are not washed, brushed, or ready to start a new day.
Recently, several schools in Hồ Chí Minh City decided to start half an hour later in winter so that children would not have to get up too early. The move has been welcomed by parents and teachers, and, of course, the children.
At any school, children need to feel comfortable and eager to go in the morning, and have plenty to talk about when they get home.
While I believe that children need to go to school not only to study but also interact with teachers and other students, many parents believe their kids can be home-schooled to get the necessary knowledge to pass tests needed to get to college and beyond.
But school doesn't mean studying only. It's where your children grow, make friends, fight with a few, make some great ones, and detest others. It is where they learn to navigate peer pressure. It's a journey, not always easy, and if you manage to circumvent most obstacles, you become more mature to adapt to the storms coming your way in the adult world.
We can't always be so assertive when speaking about training our children or giving them an education we think is best. We make mistakes and let them down sometimes despite our wishes to provide them with the best we can.
As far as the education question goes, as parents, you probably know your children best, and you can consult schools and others about their ideas and choices. But I can't say which one is best. One type of school might be good for some children at a certain time, but not so good for others.
It's not sheer luck when it comes to children. You work hard, and the results take time to show. It's not always the sweet smell of success you wished for either, but at least you did your best. No one can ask for more than that. VNS