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Free floating classes allow Mekong Delta residents to speak English with tourists



For the past month, a group of volunteer teachers have been offering free English lessons atop floating rafts in Can Tho City, allowing locals of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to practice English with foreigners.

The tuition-free class runs twice a week on a fish farming raft atop Con Son (Son Islet), just off the coast of Binh Thuy District, Can Tho City, where more than 20 students each session are given the chance to hone their English skills with the aid of native speakers.

Each of the students who attend the class has their own reason for being there. Some are orchard owners hoping to turn their business into a tourist draw, while others are delivery workers and boat captains.

What they all have in common, however, is a desire to learn English so that they can keep up with Con Son’s rise in popularity as a popular ecotourism draw.

A class for everyone

Each class begins with students and teachers arriving at the floating classroom on sampans, followed by simple greetings between the learners and their hosts.

Le Thi My Luong, one of the students, shared that her English has come a long way since she first began studying on the raft. She is now able to introduce herself and describe her family and hometown with ease.

“Everyone can join as long as they have spare time. I think I had a much more difficult time picking up the language than some of my classmates, but I’m thrilled that I can put full sentences together now,” Lung, a grandmother in her late 50s, shared, adding that she spends her free time practicing the language with her children and grandchildren.

Tran Khanh Phuong, another student in the free class, was also eager to share how far she has come since she began studying on the raft.

“It’s great to be here. I never skip class, even on days when I don’t feel well. I may not be able to make a long conversation with tourists, but at least I can give them a warm greeting in English,” Phuong said.

Well aware of their students’ mixed abilities, the class instructors work hard to ensure that each individual is taught at a pace they can follow and that lessons are tailored to their specific needs. 

That the teachers are all unpaid volunteers from nearby Huyen Le English Center does not seem to affect their dedication to delivering meaningful, well-planned lessons.

A floating classroom

On the 50-square-meter raft where classes are held, the students’ chairs are arranged in a ‘U’ shape. This arrangement ensures all the students are able to see their teacher and facilitates student-student interaction, said Duong Quoc Tong, one of the volunteer teachers.

And just as the students are happy to be there, so are the teachers.

“I find the job very meaningful. I’m glad I can help local residents speak English and communicate more effectively with foreign tourists,” said Barry White, one of the foreign teachers on the raft.     

When difficulties arise, the teachers help the older students looking up words on their smartphones before showing them how to use the new vocabulary in real life.

Ta Minh Khoi, director of Can Tho-based Huyen Le English Center, shared how proud he is of his staff helping the local community improve local tourism services through more effective English communication. 

“More than 70 percent of the students are able to quite introduce themselves in English and also talk about food. It’s really exciting,” he said, adding he plans to increase the difficulty of the classes as the students become more experienced.

The teaching staff have also set up an online group to boost the students’ exposure to English and improve their speaking skills.

“This English class may not run forever, so the online group will help the students review what they have learned and allow them to interact by raising questions and receiving answers from the instructors,” Tong explained.

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Vietnamese universities short of international students amid COVID-19 pandemic



Many Vietnamese universities are struggling against the falling number of international students because of travel restrictions amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Normally, local universities admit up to thousands of foreign students each year, who come to Vietnam to take various education programs.

They are poised to create an ideal overseas study destination in competition with regional universities, but have recently encountered a hefty obstacle – COVID-19.

Every year, the faculty of Vietnamese studies of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City, receives thousands of international students who learn about the Vietnamese language and culture.

According to Assoc. Pro. Dr. Doan Le Giang, head of the faculty, although this year’s new semester has started, around 50 percent of full-time students, including sophomores and juniors, have not come back.

They are mainly South Koreans, who returned home in February or March when the epidemic developed complicatedly in Southeast Asia.

Student numbers tumble

In the new school year of 2020-21, only about 45 new international students were admitted to the faculty of Vietnamese studies, dropping nearly a half in comparison with last year’s number.

Most of the freshmen are residing with their families in Vietnam while there are few students from other regional countries.

The pandemic has affected not only full-time students but also those participating in the 2+2 program, which means two years in Vietnam and two years in their home countries.

“They couldn’t come to Vietnam for the second semester last year and the situation remains unchanged in this year’s first semester,” said Dr. Giang.

The number of exchange students, who often register for a short course from two to three weeks, has also declined sharply, which is quite different from previous years.

Dr. Nguyen Trung Hien, head of student affairs under the faculty of international studies of the Vietnam National University-Hanoi, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper it is very difficult to attract international students.

There have been only seven freshmen up to now, Dr. Hien said.

“Although Vietnam has brought the pandemic under control, many international flights have not been resumed,” he added.

“As a result, many overseas students keep a wary eye on traveling to Vietnam for this semester. Some of them are not as excited as before.”

Dr. Hien’s university received more than 100 students from the U.S. and Canada via student exchange programs last year. The programs, however, have been canceled this year, including study tours and summer schools.

A few international students have met trouble in visa extension, according to Dr. Hien.

In such cases, the university has helped them with entry/exit formalities as requested.

Flying students home on charter flights

In 2019, FPT University admitted about 1,000 international students, mainly via student exchange programs, mostly from Japan, Australia, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

According to Dr. Le Truong Tung, chairman of the FPT University Council, all activities of international training collaboration have come to a standstill this year because of the pandemic.

At the beginning of this year, the pandemic broke out when many international students were participating in student exchange programs at the university.

At the same time, many Vietnamese students were taking part in similar programs in Japan and Malaysia.

As the pandemic could linger for a long time, the university discussed with its partners and decided to let students return home earlier than expected.

The universities were responsible for the preparation and expenses in bringing students home.

The university chartered a flight to send nearly 100 students and lecturers back to Vietnam from Japan in April, before the restrictions of international flights took effect.

The situation of RMIT Vietnam University, however, did not go as smoothly as FPT University.

Many of RMIT’s students and lecturers were stranded in Australia for months since the coronavirus outbreak.

It took the university a lot of time to organize a flight carrying 270 students and lecturers from Melbourne to Vietnam, Prof. Peter Coloe, chairman of RMIT Vietnam, told Tuoi Tre.

All the passengers had tested negative for the coronavirus from 3-7 days before boarding.

After landing at Van Don Airport in the northern Vietnamese province of Quang Ninh, they were sent to a central quarantine facility.

“RMIT University Vietnam has been in collaboration with authorities to help our students and lecturers take commercial flights transiting in Asian countries like Singapore and South Korea to come back to Vietnam since the beginning of October, before the start of the new semester,” Prof. Coloe.

Ad-hoc solution: going online

Dr. Giang said his university has offered students full online courses, as only around 50 percent of its international students are living in Vietnam.

Despite some advantages, online courses are not as good as normal classes, he remarked.

Regarding teaching Vietnamese, which is believed to be hard to learn, students cannot observe the ways a teacher pronounces. This is really difficult for foreign students.

“As a result, lecturers have to send documents to learners who can use them to learn by themselves,” said Giang.

Although FPT University can provide online courses for international students who fail come to Vietnam due to the pandemic, this way of teaching is not as effective as physical classes, Dr. Tung said.

Taking online classes, students will lose the opportunity to experience the Vietnamese culture and society.

Lack of foreign teachers

Many educational institutions in Vietnam have seen a severe shortage of foreign teachers given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The head of the marketing department of an English language school franchise chain in Ho Chi Minh City revealed that ten of their centers have fallen short of more than 50 foreign teachers.

If Hanoi and Da Nang are taken into account, the system is lacking in nearly 200 foreign lecturers.

Travel restrictions to prevent the pandemic have been considered as the main reason for such a dearth.

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Vietnamese student carrying friend piggyback in decade gets free admission to university



A medical university in Vietnam has offered free tuition to a student who gave his classmate piggyback rides to and from school for ten years.

Ngo Van Hieu, a student in Trieu Son District, north-central Thanh Hoa Province helped his amputee friend, Nguyen Tat Minh, who was born without legs never miss a single class.

Living near Minh’s house, Hieu gave his friend a piggy ride all the way from home to school and back every day, whether it was a sunny or rainy day, throughout their entire studenthood, and even on the national high school graduation exam day.

Their story has been widely shared on social media and received widespread media coverage, describing the friendship as ‘inspiring and touching.’

The duo finished high school and both got good scores in the national high school graduation exam.

Ngo Van Hieu receives a certificate of merit from the chairman of Thanh Hoa Provincial People’s Committee at the National Emulation Congress on October 2, 2020. Photo: Ha Dong / Tuoi Tre

Ngo Van Hieu receives a certificate of merit from the chairman of the Thanh Hoa Province People’s Committee at the National Emulation Congress on October 2, 2020. Photo: Ha Dong / Tuoi Tre

With a graduation score of 28.15 points, Hieu has been admitted to the Thai Binh University of Medicine and Pharmacy, located in the eponymous province in northern Vietnam.

The university has announced that it will waive tuition for Hieu during his study at the school and will create good learning conditions for him to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor in the future.

Meanwhile, Minh has also been admitted to the Hanoi University of Science and Technology.

Bach Mai, a top hospital in Hanoi, has offered Minh medical assistance and treatment during his university years as a way to give him encouragement.

In a press release, the Ministry of Health wished the two best luck to achieve high results in study so that each day they would come closer to realizing their dreams.

Nguyen Tat Minh receives a certificate of merit from the chairman of Thanh Hoa Provincial People’s Committee at the National Emulation Congress on October 2, 2020. Photo: Ha Dong / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Tat Minh receives a certificate of merit from the chairman of Thanh Hoa Province People’s Committee at the National Emulation Congress on October 2, 2020. Photo: Ha Dong / Tuoi Tre

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Vietnamese team wins 2 gold medals at Int’l Mathematical Olympiad 2020



Six Vietnamese high school students who took part in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) 2020 held in Russia all received medals, including two gold ones, the Quality Control Department under the Ministry of Education and Training reported on Sunday.

The two students who won gold medals were 10th-grader Ngo Dang Quy and 11th-grader Truong Tuan Nghia, both attending the High School for Gifted Students – Vietnam National University, Hanoi.

Nguyen Mac Nam Trung, a twelfth-grade student at the High School for the Gifted – Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, won a silver medal.

Two bronze medals were awarded to Chu Thi Thanh, a 12th-grader of Vinh Phuc High School for the Gifted and Tran Nhat Minh, a 12th-grade student of Le Hong Phong High School for the Gifted in Nam Dinh Province.

The 11th-grader Dinh Vu Tung Lam from the High School for Gifted Students at VNU-Hanoi was awarded a certificate of merit.

The 61st International Mathematical Olympiad 2020, hosted by Russia, was organized using an online format with 616 competitors from 105 countries and territories participating.

Forty-nine gold medals, 112 silver medals, and 155 bronze medals were awarded in total.

The Vietnamese team ranked 17th out of 105 teams.

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