|Illustration by Trịnh Lập|
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
Taking extra classes in Việt Nam used to be a thorn in the side of educators, parents and even students. After school, parents would set up small groups of students and invite excellent teachers to give them extra classes so that they could pass the test for the very best local schools.
When education was the only way to get a job working in government offices, studying was the key criterion for students to get a good job placement if they desired.
But that was the past. Today, students need not only be judged on their academic excellence. They can be great in other areas, such as the arts, singing, gardening, cooking, tailoring or design.
If you still want to go the traditional way and improve your academic scores in entrance tests to get to the top public schools in your district, getting a good home tutor, if your parents can afford it or going to an evening centre can help.
"I don't get it. How come the school system failed these kids," said Nguyễn Hoàng Hải who teaches primary and secondary students with poor academic scores at his home in Bắc Ninh City.
When parents take their children to him, they are often helpless. Kids with family problems are often taken to him by grandparents, and he also deals with children with learning difficulties, or those that have problems getting focused.
By teaching maths, neighbourhood teacher Hải can improve his student's scores and bring them success. He has a gentle approach to each child's difficulty, starting slow and getting them comfortable before lessons. Little by little, his students start to improve, no longer being daunted by maths.
When children feel happy and more confident at school, it shows immediate impact in their families. Parents and grandparents become happier too.
Teacher Hải is not alone, in every community around the country, you can meet retired teachers helping students with extra lessons. When it's not a retired teacher, it can be a border guard, volunteer youth, or even a security guard bringing the extra knowledge.
As a parent, I used to be very sceptical of extra classes, where kids have to spend time indoors after school. I felt it would leave them exhausted in body and mind when they badly needed a rest to recharge.
My eldest child used to resent me for not sending her to extra classes.
"Mummy, my friend's parents asked me why I didn't join the 'Best student in computer skills' in primary school class," she would say.
She was delighted and proud to be among the best students in maths and English class, and demanded to take extra classes for the district championship.
"Mummy, I only have one extra class to go to, but my best friend Linh is among the top in three subjects: maths, literature and English," she said in a good-natured competitive spirit.
God, I thought, a kid spending his or her spare time in three extra classes, what happens to their weekend free time?
For a long time, I wanted to see expert guidelines on the appropriate time allocation for children to study, depending on their age. But, in the end, we just slowly went along, making mistakes, and learning to accommodate the children's needs as best we could while factoring in their health, attention span and interest.
Knowledge can be taught, and so can intelligence. You can improve your IQ or EQ scores if you work on them the right way. But the child needs to be at ease, curious, and feel safe and happy to learn.
So, when my kid was not doing well in maths and literature at school, I thought homeschooling from her grandparents would be good. We tried a few methods and failed, and resorted to extra classes at a private centre in the end.
It was after many failures, but it worked. At some point, she showed a strong desire to work longer hours, do hundreds of maths tests, write dozens of pages of literature assignments and put up with difficult English grammar tests, to get to her dream school.
During one harsh maths quiz, where the loser was to be kicked out from the class, my child couldn't answer the teacher's question, and was scared to the point of crying. But after only a few months studying in evening classes from 6pm to 9pm, she was completely changed and became more confident at school. Of course, this hectic schedule could not last long. When the adrenaline ran out, she was tired and exhausted, so we let her rest.
A good and timely rest works every time, and she would come back better prepared to take on new challenges. When she felt she was unable to take it any more, I knew she had made much progress and would soon lift herself to the next level. I knew when she deserved her favourite food, a longer sleep, or just wanted to watch a film, or drink tea with her mother.
This coming weekend, hundreds of thousands of students across the country will take the test to get to the public school of their choice. Let's wish them luck because they have already tried their best and deserve to have a really fun summer. VNS