by Trung Hieu & Ha Duong
The Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) issued an official document in February-end urging kindergartens to desist from teaching foreign languages to children and not popularise the related curriculum.
The MoET also does not approve the use of tutorial software for foreign languages.
But, it is a known fact that when there is demand, then supply will certainly exist.
Many teachers and parents have protested against this decision, saying that the schools should continue teaching English to kindergarteners.
Huynh Thu Ly, a mother in Tay Ho District, strongly stated that the MoET's decision was nonsense.
"I pay VND10 million (about US$460) as tuition fees each month, only for my daughter to have access to English and the native teachers. I am not ambitious that she can communicate well, but just want her to become familiar with simple English words, so that she can communicate with foreigners. I feel it is an accomplishment for me if my daughter has access to English," she noted.
Nguyen Ha Phuong, a kindergarten teacher in Ha Dong District, shared this viewpoint, saying that notwithstanding the MoET decision, her school has already actively created an environment for children of all age groups to familiarise themselves with foreign languages.
"The aim is help children recognize the difference between their mother tongue and foreign language and to stimulate their mentality and learning skills during school hours. This is just to get the children familiar with English," she added.
Others argue that children should be allowed to learn English as it is their parents' wishes.
But, many other parents actually did not let their children learn English at kindergartens for the simple reason that the children still do not fluently speak Vietnamese, so why do they have to speak English?
Luu Thuy Quynh, a mother of a 4-year-old studying at the Mai Dich High Quality Kindergarten in Cau Giay District, remarked that she paid VND450,000 per month for English tuition, but her child could recall very few new words.
"I think that presently, English teaching and learning in kindergartens is not good enough. Moreover, the schools charge steep tuition fees for kindergarteners, while the teaching quality is low," she pointed out.
Phan Quang Anh, whose son studies at the Greenworld Kindergarten in Hoang Hoa Tham Street, noted that he paid VND4.5 million per month as school fees, which did not include tuition fees for English lessons.
"If your child wants to learn English, you have to pay an extra VND50,000 per session, for three to five sessions a week," he remarked.
Anh emphasised that the school does not make it mandatory for children to learn English, but it actually does the contrary, as the school says it applies a "bilingual programme".
Similarly, a parent whose child studies at Lotus School in Ba Dinh District claimed that the private school charges a fee similar to that in a public school, but if students learn at "high-quality" classes, then the fees will cost nearly VND2 million per month.
According to Associate Professor Dr Do Huy Thinh, the director of SEAMEO (a language training centre in Ha Noi), the impressions about the first teachers and lessons are very important for children as they remain etched in the child's mind for a long time.
"As for language learning, in general, and foreign language learning, in particular, the role of teachers is extremely important for proper pronunciation, listening and speaking. It must be accurate, standardised, and clear. Teachers can have a major impact on learners. For children who first learn a new language, if the teacher cannot pronounce correctly, a child will later find it difficult to hear and pronounce precisely," he pointed out.
Over two months after the MoET's decision to stop teaching foreign language at kindergartens came into effect, this ban has not been fully implemented.
In Ha Noi, the 20 October Kindergarten still offers mandatory English learning for high-quality classes and voluntary English learning for normal classes by charging VND450,000 per month.
The Ly Thuong Kiet Kindergarten also has two voluntary English lessons each week with a charge of VND160,000 per month.
The private preschools still advertise their bilingual programmes, although they teach English for just 30 minutes each day.
Similarly, English teaching in kindergartens in HCM City is still normally implemented. In many schools in Districts 3, 5 and 7, parents still pay a monthly tuition of VND170,000 for their children to learn English. They have not received any information about the English teaching ban.
Most kindergarten principals concede that their school's key task is to keep the children's attendances, but under the pressure of demand, they have chosen a foreign language centre to incorporate teaching English so that they can hardly control the teaching quality.
These schools also sell textbooks to pupils under the label of "voluntary".
The persistence of these kindergartens has attracted MoET's attention.
The ministry recently decided to allow kindergartens to teach English to children when they have enough material facilities, a contingent of teachers with degrees from foreign language teaching colleges and parental approval.
According to deputy director of the Ha Noi Department of Education and Training Pham Thi Hong Nga, the MoET decision to regulate the teaching of foreign languages to kindergarteners has two advantages.
"First, the ministry bans unqualified schools from teaching foreign languages. Second, it aims to prevent schools from collecting exorbitant tuition fees," she claimed.
However, she emphasised that many parents feel the need for their children to be familiar with English.
"According to a foreign study, children's language ability develops best between 2 and 6 years of age. If parents allow their children access to English earlier in life, then it will also be favourable for our current integration period. In fact, many children also enjoy being acquainted with the English language. Many children feel more confident and dynamic, so their parents feel the need to send their children to these classes," she noted.
Nga said that the qualified schools must have teachers who are native speakers, have pedagogical and kindergarten certificates, and are allowed to work in Viet Nam.
"The curriculum is only an open programme. It helps children to become familiar with English through songs and games, with just 30 minutes of class time on a daily basis," she said.
Accordingly deputy director of Kindergarten Education Department Phan Thi Lan Anh, the ministry's decision to prohibit teaching English for kindergarteners is deemed necessary.
"At this young age, children may mimic others, but as of now, the teachers, facilities and programmes at kindergartens are still not up to the mark for them to learn English," she pointed out.
"The cooperation between the nursery schools and foreign language centres has created a negative impression in the minds of some parents. Hence, the ministry felt the need to rectify the situation. When we recognise that the schools have qualified teachers, requisite facilities and curricula, we will consider allowing the schools to teach foreign languages," she said. — VNS