by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
It's unprecedented, but now students all over Việt Nam have had their Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday extended to more than a month. This didn't even happen in ancient times and certainly not since the republic was founded in 1945.
It is a cliche that students always want more days off and that they jump at every chance to have a class off or play truant.
Now schoolchildren, especially teenagers, and students want to go back to school, something their parents never dreamed of before the novel coronavirus epidemic.
When Hà Nội, HCM City and elsewhere closed schools five weeks ago, parents had to take their annual leave to look after their children and schools started switching to online teaching.
With so many days off, so much time to kill, students face a serious question: Why do we study? For what purpose?
Now that they don't have to go to school every day, they can wake up late, have breakfast at home and then have a whole day to kill and must work out a schedule of their own.
Playing computer games, surfing the internet or watching TV all day is a dream that has come true. They can do whatever they want, as long as they want because their parents aren't around to keep an eye on them.
Do they still want it, after five weeks?
"We want to go to school!" exclaimed a 10th grader to me on the phone. "I'm fed up with staying home!"
"What a pity, no more school for yet another week!" posted another on Facebook. "I have exams to pass this May, and now I have to study online with my tutor!"
When teenagers can do what they want, there's normally no limit to the number of ways they can surprise and scare their parents.
But in the time of the coronavirus, many have become more active and responsible, making their own breakfast, tidying their rooms, studying online, making paintings and creating online birthday cards to send to friends they can't see in person.
Students have had to find the purpose of school themselves, or even more importantly, what they really want to do with their lives.
"I want to study abroad, so I need to take exams before I can apply," said one student at an English tutoring centre in Hà Nội. Consultation centres for studying abroad have also switched their operations to online.
"Studying online has some positive aspects," said one tutor, "but if you get to work face to face, you know if your students are following the lesson."
"When everyone has a long break and enjoys their free time, it makes you really want to study, just for the joy of learning," another 10th grader said, adding she needed to work more to keep up with her bright classmates.
Recently, Hà Nội education officials have decided to broadcast lessons on local television.
"This is very helpful for those who don't have computers with internet access," said one parent. "But if they have a question, they could not ask the teacher, whereas learning online, students can post questions for teachers."
Working parents have lamented on public forums, saying they can't take to having their kids at home all day anymore without the usual school discipline.
"My child went over to the neighbour's and played tennis in the house. They broke their family's TV screen with the remote control they were using as a tennis racket," a Vietnamese mother who owns a popular online shop lamented.
Young children need to be supervised at all times but as the epidemic hit so suddenly, people just have to deal with it and face the consequences.
International school kids are in a uniquely difficult position here in Việt Nam, as one American mother whose child studies at an international school in Hà Nội explained.
She said that while Vietnamese schools can delay until the summer, contracts with the teachers specify a timeframe, so the school year must finish on schedule.
An art project for school children has reportedly suffered heavily since early this year because of a lack of participants.
"Please bear with me this news," read an announcement in a group chat for the project on social media.
The producer said that she cannot refund all the participants who decided to quit the project after hiring a space, songwriters and music teachers, before offering to still teach the children online until the epidemic subsides.
Parents who signed up for their children to be in the project showed their support for online training.
"Please record the voice training and broadcast it in the group," read one message in a group chat for the project.
"Our children need to do things at home, too. Let's go through this together and when our children learn all the songs, we can still have a performance later this year," read another.
Diseases come and diseases go. The Government of Việt Nam is using strong measures to keep the deadly disease under control.
"When your motherland calls upon you," read a popular post on Facebook, "all you can do best now is stay where you are, keep calm, and be safe!" VNS