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English center chain makes amends after accusations of tuition fee scam in Vietnam’s Central Highlands



A representative of APAX Leaders made an apology and pledged to return tuition fees to parents on Thursday after Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper had reported on accusations against a branch of the English center chain for appropriating the tuition.

The branch in question is located in Buon Ma Thuot City, Dak Lak Province of Vietnam’s Central Highlands region.

It was granted permission for operation by the Department of Education and Training of Dak Lak on April 23, 2020.

Accounts given by many parents to Tuoi Tre showed that the center received tuition fees for long-term courses this summer, but suddenly stopped all operations last month.

Tran Thi Hoa, 44, said that she had paid more than VND23.3 million (US$983) for her child’s 12-month course at the APAX Leaders center in Buon Ma Thuot City on June 22.

Hoa’s child had attended classes at the center since then until one day in August, when the student and her friends were met with a closed classroom upon their arrival and made to wait at the entrance hall of the venue until their parents picked them up.

Hoa immediately tried to find staff members at the center for clarification, but the entire venue was empty.

For Trieu Vy Hoang Thuong, 35, the tuition fee she had paid was over VND41 million ($1,730).

Hoa, Thuong, and all other parents were not informed of the shutdown in advance.

“A security guard told me that the center closed down quietly,” Thuong said.

“The director and all staff members quit their jobs and took on new ones in other places.

“Many other parents also paid tuition fees for the whole year like me and were stunned by the sudden closure.”

When the parents tried to reach out to some teachers and staff members of the center that they have contact with, they were informed on August 19 that classes would be temporarily closed on August 20 and 21 due to a server problem, and the new timetable would be announced shortly after, according to Thuong.

“However, they have given our children a long break so far, and have not made any contact with the hundreds of parents who paid tuition fees,” Thuong complained. 

“Each parent paid VND20-50 million [$843-2,109], translating to a large sum of money having handed to this center.”

Representatives unaware of the case

The parents made extra efforts to contact a woman named Huong, who quit her job as the director of the APAX Leaders center in Buon Ma Thuot in July, and Dao Thai Son, a representative of the branch.

While Huong told the parents that she resigned after working at the center for only a month and was not aware of its closure, Son instructed them to have their children switch to the online studying mode.

“We paid a lot of money so that our children can study directly at the center to improve their English communication skills and confidence,” Hoa said. 

“We can let our children study online without paying that much,” she added as she criticized Son’s response as inappropriate and perfunctory.

Son then assured the parents that he was working on refunding procedures, of which he could not ensure the outcome.

In response to Tuoi Tre’s request on the reason for the center’s sudden shutdown, Son said “it is not in [his] duty.”

For Huong, she said many of the parents blamed her while they transferred tuition fees to the center’s bank account, not hers.

“APAX Leaders still owes me my salary,” she added.

Tuoi Tre made several attempts to contact the southern director of APAX Leaders, but did not get a response.

Authorities take action

The provincial education department, together with the local police unit, received denunciation letters from the parents on September 15, according to Doan Dinh Duan, Dak Lak’s deputy chief education inspector.

A delegation of inspectors has also been established to deal with the case.

“We are further verifying the number of affected students and the amount of tuition paid by the parents,” Duan said. 

“In addition, the delegation asked the center to stop recruiting students and advertising courses until the problem is solved, and the Dak Lak Department of Education and Training allows them to resume teaching and recruiting activities. 

“The department’s inspectors will make an official announcement to the parents and the press as soon as possible.”

Responses from headquarters

On Thursday, via a response to Tuoi Tre, APAX Leaders English Center issued an apology to parents who have been affected by the incident at its branch in Buon Ma Thuot.

A representative of the chain refuted scamming parents and students out of tuition fees.

The chain stated that it neither sent notices nor directed anyone to make statements and take irresponsible actions against customers. 

The statements made by individuals in Tuoi Tre’s article are not the official stance of APAX Leaders and its policies.

To ensure the interests of parents, the chain will contact them via phone calls on Friday to listen to their accounts of the incident and come up with a plan to deal with customers’ refund requests.

“We’re committed to explaining the incident in writing to the regulatory agencies and delivering notifications to the media and customers,” the representative said.

The chain has identified that the incident at the Buon Ma Thuot-based center was caused by some individuals, who did not report arising problems to their superiors and failed to properly perform their responsibilities.

“We will check and handle the violations, appropriately discipline related individuals, and do not let this happen again,” the representative said. 

“In the shortest time, APAX Leaders will review the operation of the entire center to correct the shortcomings (if any) of the whole system in order to ensure the quality of teaching and learning we committed.”

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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 Special School. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

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.”

Teacher Le Hong Vu Minh teaches English to a class at Nguyen Dinh Chieu Special School. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

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

Trying to protect students from the ‘negative impact’ of the Internet

Among the various challenges, Le Ho Vu Minh is most concerned about the negative impact of the Internet on his blind students, although information technology has helped them a lot.

According to him, before the Internet era, the blind spent so much time playing music.

There were many music talents that came out of the visually impaired community.

Nowadays, however, many of them spend their time not only studying and living, but also surfing websites or social media.

Therefore, the number of blind people who have a special talent for music has remarkably decreased, which can be observed by some music teachers at Nguyen Dinh Chieu school.

“I often tell my students that as blind people, we always need much more time to do the same work than normal people,” Minh said.

“In other words, we have to try harder to do everything in life, so we had better not waste time on worthless things on the Internet.

“But it’s not that simple. We are really trying to fight to protect our students from the bad temptations of the Internet.”

Truong Viet Toan, a schoolmate of Le Hong Vu Minh at university, said his friend is an excellent example of strong will and perseverance.

In their years at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Minh left his friends with the impression of a person with a good sense of humor who always sees the positive.

“He can take care of himself in everyday life, except when he has to ask others to guide him to school,” Toan said.

“But he is incredibly good at remembering the roads. Sometimes I drive him somewhere and he navigates my way.”

According to Toan, Minh is an excellent English teacher who has mastered the four skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

He is also enthusiastic about after-school activities, so others sometimes forget that he is blind.

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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 2022 Open Doors reports shows the numbers of Vietnamese students studying in the U.S. over the years.

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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British Council allowed to resume IELTS exam in Vietnam



The British Council received the permission from the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training to resume IELTS exam on Friday, one day after IDP Education was granted the same approval.

The approval allows the British Council to cooperate with Dong A Education Tech Ltd., ODIN Education JSC and University Access Centre Vietnam Ltd. to organize the tests.

Hanoi, Hai Phong City, north-central Nghe An Province, central Thua Thien-Hue Province, and Ho Chi Minh City are the British Council’s five licensed exam venues.

The mentioned companies have to inform People’s Committees at provincial and municipal levels about exam schedules at least five days in advance and are required to submit reports on their operations every six months, before June 25 and December 25, to the education ministry.

The British Council and IDP Education are the only two IELTS test organizers in Vietnam.

The education ministry issued a similar decision to permit IDP Education to resume the test on Thursday.

Last week, both the British Council and IDP announced the temporary postponement of all tests until further notice.

The reason for the suspension was that test organizers had not completed their legal dossiers as per the regulations.

The two IELTS test organizers just submitted the required document to the education ministry earlier this week.

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