Nearly 23 million Vietnamese students officially began their 2020-21 academic year on Saturday, when schools across the country kickstarted the new school year amid the ‘new normal’ of implementing COVID-19 prevention and control rules.
Schools across 63 Vietnamese cities and provinces, except Da Nang — the country’s COVID-19 outbreak epicenter at the moment, held school opening ceremonies in a brief manner on Saturday morning.
The ceremonies were largely symbolic as students in some localities had already resumed school earlier this week.
Schools are tasked with actively building their own education plans so as to be prepared for every situation of pandemic developments and avoid interruptions to teaching activities.
|A group of students takes a ‘wefie’ while attending the school opening ceremony at Phu Nhuan High School in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
It is estimated that Hanoi’s nearly 2,800 schools will welcome more than 2.1 million students this school year, an increase of 68,000 students from the previous year.
The capital city said it has ensured that 100 percent of the local schools are well-prepared for COVID-19 prevention and control.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the municipal chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong attended the school opening ceremony at Mac Dinh Chi High School in District 6.
Ngoc Han, a tenth-grader representing students at Mac Dinh Chi High School, said that she hopes to not experience multiple interruptions from school as in the previous school year although she has prepared for changes in her study in the ‘new normal.’
|Students attend the school opening ceremony at Nguyen Tat Thanh Middle and High School in Hanoi, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Vinh Ha / Tuoi Tre|
|A group of students takes a ‘wefie’ while attending the school opening ceremony at Le Quy Don High School in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre|
Meanwhile, Xuan Huy, an 11th-grader at Phu Nhuan High School in Phu Nhuan District, said he is happy to reunite with his friends in the new school year, which he feels more special due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Huy’s high school, only 700 students in the tenth grade and 20 representatives from 11th and 12th grades participated in the school opening ceremony on Saturday — instead of all of the school’s 2,500 students — to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Likewise, in Quang Nam Province — which borders Da Nang City where hundreds of COVID-19 cases have been reported since July 25, only students in the first, sixth and tenth grades and some representatives of other grades attended Saturday’s ceremony.
School opening ceremonies were not organized in Quang Nam’s six localities practicing enhanced social distancing, namely Hoi An City, Dien Ban Town, and the four districts of Duy Xuyen, Thang Binh, Que Son and Dai Loc.
|Ho Chi Minh City chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong hits a drum during the school opening ceremony at Mac Dinh Chi High School in District 6, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre|
|Students attend the school opening ceremony at Nguyen Binh Khiem High School in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Le Trung / Tuoi Tre|
|A student has her body temperature checked before attending the school opening ceremony at Mac Dinh Chi High School in District 6, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre|
|Officials, teachers and students attend the school opening ceremony at Phu Nhuan High School in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
|Vietnam’s Vice State President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh (left) presents a portrait of the late Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh to the headmaster of Le Quy Don High School in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre|
|Students attend the school opening ceremony at Phu Nhuan High School in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
|Two students wash their hands before attending the school opening ceremony at Phu Nhuan High School in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
|Students attend the school opening ceremony at Nguyen Tat Thanh Middle & High School in Hanoi, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Vinh Ha / Tuoi Tre|
|Students attend the school opening ceremony at Mac Dinh Chi High School in District 6, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre|
|Students attend the school opening ceremony at Thoi Binh A Elementary School in Thoi Binh District, Ca Mau Province, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Khanh Tran / Tuoi Tre|
|Students attend the school opening ceremony at Minh Dao Elementary School in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Nhu Hung / Tuoi Tre|
|Students queue to have their body temperature checked before attending the school opening ceremony at Phu Nhuan High School in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
|Students queue to have their body temperature checked before attending the school opening ceremony at Nguyen Dinh Chieu Elementary School in Hanoi, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre|
|Students smile as they attend the school opening ceremony at Mac Dinh Chi High School in District 6, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre|
|Students attend the school opening ceremony at Thuy Phu 2 Elementary School in Huong Thuy District, Thua Thien-Hue Province, Vietnam, September 5, 2020. Photo: Phuoc Tuan / Tuoi Tre|
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‘Never too old to learn English,’ say Vietnam’s grannies
HANOI — Every Tuesday, 79-year-old Nguyen Thi Loc joins a group of grey-haired students to study English at a house in Hanoi, with the aim of socialising and keeping her brain sharp.
The informal classes are free and are taught by Phung Thi Yen, who trained as an English teacher but currently works as an office worker.
It comes as a growing number of scientific studies show the benefits of learning a language to maintain and enhance cognitive abilities, including for senior citizens.
Loc has never studied a foreign language before, but with her newly acquired skills she chants in chorus with her classmates: “Never too old to learn English”.
They read out loud, repeat after the teacher, and sing songs to try to perfect their pronunciation – one of the hardest parts of their work.
|Elderly people pose for a picture as they attend an english class in Hanoi, Vietnam November 8, 2022. Photo: Reuters|
“The tongue twisters, words with muted letters, words that we have to curl our lips to pronounce: these things are very difficult for us”, Loc says.
Yen, 30, set up the classes four years ago with the aim of giving the elderly a place where they could meet, socialise and learn something new. The elderly in Vietnam typically live alone or with their children rather than in retirement homes.
With her employer’s support, Yen takes time off her day job to teach Loc’s class and several others. She and her group of volunteers are currently teaching 200 elderly students.
Yen says her students are working hard to learn the language. English is Vietnam’s most commonly taught foreign language after having become a mandatory subject at school in the 1990s.
|Elderly people attend an english class in Hanoi, Vietnam November 8, 2022. Photo: Reuters|
“These grannies have been trying hard and made a lot of effort to get to where they are now. At the very least, they have built for themselves a sizeable vocabulary that they can utilise in their daily lives,” Yen says.
Loc says there have been moments of discouragement over the four years she has been taking the class, but it makes her happy to be able to understand her grandchildren when they practice speaking in English while doing their homework.
“Even though we are old, we still should try to study, because studying helps the brain,” she said.
Daily challenges for a visually impaired teacher in Vietnam
More than twenty years ago, Le Hong Vu Minh was a blind student. Today he is an English teacher at the school where he once studied, Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind in Ho Chi Minh City, but many challenges Minh has faced are quite different.
One day in the past, at the age of ten, Minh found that his eyesight was gradually deteriorating until he could no longer see.
His parents sent him to Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind in District 10, Ho Chi Minh City to learn useful skills for the blind while trying to find treatment.
Despite their efforts, the exact cause of Minh’s blindness has not been determined to this day.
The decision to give back
“As for me, I may be even luckier, because tragedy struck when I was a child,” Minh recalled.
“At that time, I was too young to know how terrible blindness would be, so I was not too shocked.”
At Nguyen Dinh Chieu School, Minh had the opportunity to meet friends who were going through the same thing, which made him feel very compassionate.
“I was so busy with many things, including finding treatment for the disease and learning life skills for the blind, that I did not have time to feel sad,” Minh said.
Over time, the boy who suddenly went blind has grown up step by step, with the love of his parents, the naivety of his childhood, and the strength of his will in his later years.
After attending Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind for two years, Minh returned to regular school to study with classmates with normal sight.
At the same time, he still attended classes in survival skills at the special school.
In those days, Minh encountered numerous subjects that were ‘not for’ the visually impaired, such as three-dimensional geometry, one that required him to imagine what they were in his head and to even ‘draw’ graphs in his mind.
Despite these challenges, he gradually completed all levels of general education and graduated from the Faculty of English Linguistics and Literature at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities under the Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City.
He later won a scholarship to study for a master’s degree in special education in Australia.
“Actually, I did not want to be a teacher at first, so I worked in a company after I finished my bachelor’s degree. I still kept in touch with the teachers at Nguyen Dinh Chieu School and helped them when I could,” Minh said.
“One day I knew my old high school needed an English teacher and felt the job seemed to fit me, so I came back,” teacher Minh told of a turning point in his life when he became a teacher at Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind in 2011.
His decision may come as no surprise, as the old high school has always been a family to him and others.
|Teacher Le Hong Vu Minh has been blind since he was ten years old, but he has tried to overcome his fate to become an excellent English teacher at Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind in District 10, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
Knowing that there is no faculty that trains pedagogical methods only for the blind, Minh decided to study at two faculties at the same time in Australia, the Faculty of Education for the Blind and the Faculty of English Teaching, hoping to help students the most.
Minh has tried to learn English before, when there was no Internet. So, he knows how difficult it is for learners to find ways to learn foreign languages.
As a result, he is aware of the many advantages available to today’s learners thanks to innovative technological achievements.
Minh has focused on finding the best teaching methods that combine both traditional and innovative approaches to teaching English to his visually impaired students.
“When I was a student, there was only Braille, now there are more tools like computers, audiobooks, and the Internet to help students learn,” said Minh.
“I especially admire teacher Minh,” said Nguyen Thi Thanh Hue, principal of Nguyen Dinh Chieu School.
“As a normal person with healthy eyes, I find it exceedingly difficult to learn English.
“In contrast, he knows English very well and has effective methods to help blind students learn the foreign language comfortably and normally like sighted students do.”
Challenges for educational integration
Minh is not only an English teacher, but also responsible for helping the visually impaired students to participate in classes in a normal school together with healthy classmates, as per Vietnam’s policy to encourage the blind to mingle with those with normal sight.
He helps the students find solutions to the problems they may have in class. While playing this role, Minh acts like a brother to the students, according to Hue.
“Students often turn to me to ask about the problems they have attending regular school,” Minh said.
“There is a student who had difficulty learning because the teachers only write on the blackboard and he could not see anything, while some others were discriminated against in some cases.”
In line with the government’s policy in recent years to help the blind integrate into the ordinary education system, the visually impaired have the opportunity to attend a school near their home when they reach the appropriate age.
Although the policy is humane and appropriate, its implementation faces many obstacles.
“Some schools are reluctant to accept blind students because they are not confident in teaching them with the specially required skills. We have tried to help schools overcome these difficulties,” Minh said.
He was incredibly pleased with the positive feedback from teachers in these schools, who said that it was no longer a challenge for them to teach visually impaired students after they had acquired the necessary skills.
When Minh told your correspondent about the positive feedback that he received from the teachers at Nguyen Dinh Chieu School, his face brims with joy.
During the three months of summer, Minh and many other teachers at Nguyen Dinh Chieu School did not have a single day off. They had to rush to prepare the new English textbooks in Braille for use in 6th grade in the 2022-23 school year.
Since there are three English books that schools can choose to teach, and the official decision on which books to teach was announced late, the ‘translation’ of these books into Braille is not yet complete.
Currently, Minh and two other teachers have to continue the remaining work.
“One of the biggest challenges for us in converting English textbooks into Braille is that there are so many pictures,” said Minh, explaining the process of creating a Braille textbook.
“We have to decide which photos to keep or remove as long as that does not have a negative impact on the amount of knowledge in the books.”
|Le Hong Vu Minh teaches English to a class at Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind in District 10, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
Vietnamese students make fifth largest group of foreign students in US
Vietnamese students constitute the fifth largest group of foreign students in the U.S. for the academic year of 2021/2022, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi cited the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) annual Open Doors report.
Despite a 4.2 percent decrease in the number of students from 21,631 in 2020-21 to 20,713 in 2021-22, the position was up from sixth last year.
When assessed on a basis of overall economy size and measured through GDP output, the data indicates that Vietnam now sends more students to the U.S. than any other country, the U.S. Embassy said in a press release on Friday.
Vietnamese students also continue to demonstrate a strong footing in strategically important subjects across U.S. institutions such as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and business/management studies.
The percentage of Vietnamese students pursuing STEM and business/management majors are 47.1 percent and 25.6 percent respectively.
|A screenshot from the 2022 Open Doors report shows the number of Vietnamese students studying in the U.S. over the years.|
“As the United States approaches the tenth Anniversary of the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, the Open Doors data is demonstrable proof that education remains a cornerstone of the bilateral relationship, while the nature of our current educational cooperation is already strategic,” Genevieve Judson-Jourdain, U.S. Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer, was quoted as saying in the press release on Friday.
According to the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Mission to Vietnam is committed to deepening the two countries’ education cooperation through enhanced linkages and dual programs between American and Vietnamese institutions, facilitating joint research, and increasing opportunities for Vietnamese and American students, faculty, administrators, and staff to have meaningful exchanges.
Over 948,000 international students from more than 200 places of origin studied at U.S. higher education institutions during the 2021-22 academic year, a four-percent rise compared to the previous academic year, the 2022 Open Doors report showed.
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