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Are schools turning pupils into parrots?

Update: February, 14/2012 - 09:18


by Trung Hieu

Although six-year-old Gia Bao and his classmates have finished their first term, his parents along with others are dubious about the workload and content their children are having to deal with.

According to many parents, the subjects that their children learn, especially Vietnamese, are too long and difficult for young children, fresh out of pre-school.

Mai Thi Nhan from Ha Noi's Kim Lien Ward says she has realised many lessons in the Vietnamese textbooks are not suitable for children.

"For example, our children have to learn long and complicated sentences like ‘Nga's home village has a tradition of carpentry, and Ha's street has a reputation for its pork pies'.

"In another lesson, they have to read long sentences like ‘Chim tranh ret bay ve phuong Nam. Ca dan da tham met nhung van co bay theo hang' (Flocks of birds fly to the South to avoid winter. Even though all of them are tired, they are trying to fly in formation)."

Many other sentences are even longer, with many pictographic words that are difficult for children to understand.

Nhan says reading and remembering long sentences is tough for children who have just left pre-school.

"There are many words that are simple and easy to understand and spell, and easier for children to figure out, but I don't know why authors do not include them in the textbooks" she says.

Sharing Nhan's viewpoint, Luu Dinh Thanh from Hang Thiec Street says there's a lot of content that even senior students don't understand, but teachers continue to use the material with first grade children.

For example, to learn the syllable "uong", the textbooks provides a very long sentence like this: "Nang da len. Lua tren nuong da chin. Trai gai ban muong cung vui vao hoi".

(The sun is shining. Rice has turned yellow in the mountainous fields. Young men and women in mountainous villages are excited about their traditional festivals).

"I try to explain to my son what nuong (mountainous fields) and ban muong (ethnic minority village) mean, but I'm sure he can't completely understand all of them," he says.

"With this method of cramming knowledge, the authors of these textbooks are turning our children into parrots," Thanh says.

Nguyen Thi Tang from Phuong Liet Ward says since her grandson entered his first year, she and his parents have had to tutor the boy, and sometimes become frustrated because there are too many words in the books that are difficult to explain, and the little boy still can't understand.

"It's not only Vietnamese, but other subjects like maths and English are taught to a level way above first grade standard, so the whole family has to learn it in order to help the young boy," she says.

As my son is also a first grader, I have noticed their complaints and studied his textbooks, and found that in many Vietnamese textbooks, in addition to very long sentences, there are also many abstract concepts which are not suitable for young children, such as chenh chech (oblique), chay duom (a stove is blazing), muu tri (ingenious) and xe chi (spinning thread).

The same textbooks also seem to promote sexual inequality.

According to research conducted by Nguyen Tuyet Minh, a lecturer at the Sociology Faculty of the Academy of Journalism and Communications, women are portrayed as manual labourers or housewives, while men work in fields that require high professionalism and good physical health.

"In these primary school textbooks, jobs that require intellectual and creativeness, like scientists, and jobs that require strength, like soldiers, policemen, sailors and pilots are all taken by men, absolutely no women. In terms of farming, often considered a very hard and low income job, the ratio of women is also higher than men," she says.

"Illustrations and content of lessons show that women only work at home and in the kitchen, while men operate in all social-related aspects."

"Sexual equality can't be achieved if the next generations are educated following such preconceptions," says Minh.

The homework that teachers set also causes children problems.

Sometimes, teachers give them difficult words to practise reading and writing, which is vocabulary beyond their years.

When compiling homework for students, teachers should consider the actual learning capacity of the children.

Nguyen Ngoc Lan, a primary school teacher in Ba Dinh District, says pupils should not only know how to spell and read, but also understand the meaning of the words and sentences.

"I acknowledge that the textbooks contains some words and sentences unsuitable for youngsters, causing difficulties for both teachers and students. For example, the word ao chuom (ponds and pools) is hard to image, so I have to use pictures, photos and a dictionary to explain to my students, but not all of them understand," she says.

Nguyen Thuy Anh, a specialist from the Ministry of Education and Training says: "With six-year-old children, a sentence should have six or seven words only, which is fine for them to pronounce. In their first term, they should have access to texts containing short and simple sentences which can are easy to understand.

"With lessons to teach how to read and write, the content should focus on concepts and things that children are familiar with, so they can absorb the knowledge quickly," she says.

I think that first year at school is an important milestone for young children, so overworking them can not only affect their health, but also have a negative impact on their psychology, even causing them to lose interest in learning. Some may even feel an inferiority complex if they can't keep pace with what they are being taught in class.

At this age, children should learn and play, instead of being stuffed with difficult subjects and become "parrots". — VNS

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