Viet Nam News
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
Open any daily newspaper these days and you’ll find stories about school exams. Vietnamese society in general and Vietnamese parents in particular are obsessed with children’s performance at school. Being good at school means you need to succeed in the Vietnamese language and literature and maths. And in the 21st century you can add English to that list.
Students who are good at the rest of subjects are not considered successful, they are merely deemed to have special (and, it is implied, ultimately unimportant) talents.
Sitting at a parent-teacher year-end meeting a couple of weeks ago left me wondering: What can we as parents do to help children find their strengths, something they like or are good at, to boost their confidence and help them further succeed in life?
The teacher reviewed the class results for the year in academic terms. There was a good mix of some of the school’s best students, and some of the "worst". There seems to be a pattern that the top five kids are good at all the subjects.
Of course, the teacher was delighted to praise the excellent students, but I felt that the students who need help must get the appropriate tools to do better.
And they are not getting the help they need at school.
In an open letter to the Minister of Education and Training, an anonymous retired teacher writes: "Please, Minister of Education, could you give it another thought: Education is about accepting all students, not eliminating those who struggle."
"The nature of public schools at all levels is that these institutions exist to take in all children, train them and give them a chance to be educated to further integrate into the larger society when they mature."
"The school must take in students to teach them right and wrong," the letter continues. “This is the reason for the existence of all elementary, junior and high schools.
"Expelling students [because they are struggling in some areas] must not be the ultimate goal of basic education and training."
The letter also cites President Hồ Chí Minh as saying "Children are like young buds on the trees. If they know when to eat, when to go to bed, when to study, then they are good."
The letter cites another ancient example. Once Chinese philosopher Confucius was asked by his disciples not to accept a notorious student, who was known in the area as a thief. To his students, Confucius is believed to have said, "Education means to teach a person to do right. Never deny someone the chance to become a good person and succeed, regardless of how and where he or she started out in life."
Everyone needs and has the right to study and be educated. That’s why we need schools and the teachers who make schools work.
But reality kicks in. It pains us a great deal to witness schools, both public and private, that seem to put their financial benefit above all. The students have sadly become their tools to make more money. The schools need successful students to boost their reputation. Students who lag behind will not add in the value or give schools the reputation they want.
"Have you, the education officials at your ministry, not once read the regulations of those schools, which are so strict, they read like the rules of either a military camp or a prison," the letter asks. "Do you know that some schools, in order to meet your ministry’s standard of a national-quality school, have asked nearly 50 parents to move their children to other schools to keep their records clean?"
Asking parents to transfer their kids elsewhere demonstrates only the failure of the school’s management.
"Let me tell you something," a parent said to me at the school’s year-end meeting. "One of my classmates was a guy my big sister’s age. He had to repeat several classes to study with me. In grade seven, his parents were summoned by our teacher to come and either take him home or send him to another school because he could not keep pace with the rest of us.
"You know what? Now he has become a very successful businessman. And for every class reunion, it’s he who is willing to sponsor many events, outings and camping trips.
He said, "I saw people going to class reunions so much, I though I’d love to meet and catch up with my friends."
But not many people have primary school homecomings, and junior high was the highest level to which he had studied. The others went on to finish high school and then colleges. Some even earned graduate degrees.
"At all the reunions, he insisted on paying the bills for us," she said. "We all work and can pay the drink bills, but he said he only had us as his closest friends, so let him do what he wanted."
For an experienced and weathered businessman, the pure friendship and the innocent time of school days are some of the things you won’t find elsewhere in life.
Every child is smart in his or her own way. Let the school nurture their ability, their endeavours and help them find their strength instead of trying to fit them all to one mold.
The friends you make at school can grow old with you and be there for you even when you have left that school many, many years ago.
And the teachers, instead of classifying students into good or not so good, can find their ways to include them all in class activities, by creating a nurturing environment or sharing a good story, a good sports game, or simply a good laugh at a joke.
Well, it’s easer said than done. But in any case, when a school expels a child, it has failed terribly. --VNS