Illustration by Đàm Minh Chí
by Khoa Thư
16-year-old Lê Nam woke up at 9am, having no idea what day of the week it was.
For a tenth grader at Quảng Trị Province’s Lê Quý Đôn High School for the Gifted, the unexpected school closure due to the coronavirus outbreak has been unbearably long.
“It was fun for the first couple of days,” he said. “Who doesn't enjoy a longer Lunar New Year Holiday?”
“When it came to the second week, my friends and I started getting bored and a bit worried that we may have our summer vacation cut short by extra classes.”
As of Saturday, Việt Nam had extended school closures till the end of February, leaving some 22 million kindergarten and secondary students at home.
Although many schools, mostly in big cities, have offered online classes with teachers livestreaming their lectures via Facebook or Skype, the others simply ask their students to complete worksheets downloaded from their websites then email them.
“It is all about revising. We have not learnt anything new,” said Hồng Minh, a twelfth grader at Lê Quý Đôn High School for the Gifted.
“I do not know how I'm going to prepare for the national high school examination if the situation persists,” she said.
The examination, scheduled annually in June, is a major event in Việt Nam which decides whether students can graduate from high schools and enrol in higher education institutes.
It demands focus from students and teachers, especially in the final semester.
“I have tried to self-study but it's not been effective as I have no teachers to help me,” Minh said.
She has no clue where to start while the workload seems overwhelming.
Most Vietnamese students spend their after-school hours in extra classes, mostly in maths, Vietnamese literature, English, chemistry, physics and biology – the “major” subjects that appear in the National High School Exam.
Amid epidemic fears, those classes are closed.
Even at universities, self-studying accounts for only 20 per cent of a common syllabus, making it a real challenge for students to acquire knowledge by themselves during the school closure.
“All the e-learning materials have been developed after the students were asked to stay at home, so it is a temporary solution rather than a learning archive,” said Nguyễn Quỳnh Giang, an English teacher in Quảng Trị Province’s Hướng Hoá District – one of the most disaster-prone localities in Việt Nam where schools are closed several times a year due to floods and storms.
“Not many students are proactive enough to approach teachers for recommendations on books and study material,” she said.
“As 80 per cent of our students are from ethnic minority groups, they are quite dependent on teachers.”
The coronavirus has led to an unprecedentedly long school closure in Việt Nam, but on the other hand, it has offered educators opportunities to think about solutions for distance learning, not only to respond to epidemics but also suit the changing demands of learners.
There were suggestions made to make homeschooling a legal alternative to public and private schools when the amended Law on Education was drafted in 2018, but that came to nothing, so it is essential for teachers to encourage students to self-study by helping them sharpen their critical thinking and research skills.
“My daughter has been assigned to read more books and write short reviews on her favourite characters and plots while she's at home,” said Vũ Khánh Linh from Hà Nội’s Hai Bà Trưng District.
The new curriculum, which will be implemented nationwide from 2020-2021, aims to inspire students to learn by themselves to effectively apply their knowledge and skills in practice.
Only when individuality and flexibility are upheld will students make the best use of their time and effectively learn wherever they are, even curled up in a blanket during an unwanted school closure. — VNS