Millions of high school students in Ho Chi Minh City and many other cities and provinces returned to school on August 22 for their 2022-2023 academic year. The soaring number of students, leading to school overcrowding, plus teacher shortage, is a big headache in many localities.
“As the number of students is on the rise, there will not be enough space to house all in the next few years,” said a representative of the education and training bureau in Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City.
Schools struggling with upsurge in student number
Binh Tan District annually sees the number of students of all grades increase by 4,000-5,000 on average.
“This year, the district will have an additional 4,400 students. As a result, the district must build at least three new schools with 30 classrooms each every year to meet the needs of the students,” the representative said.
However, the construction of new schools in Ho Chi Minh City is facing several obstacles over land and site clearance.
According to Ho Tan Minh, chief of the office of the Ho Chi Minh Department of Education and Training, over 21,800 students go to school in the city in the 2022-2023 academic year.
However, the number of students is expected to continue rising after the school year opening ceremony, slated for September 5.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the number of students, mainly at elementary schools, will soar by 40,000 each year.
Thu Duc City, District 12, Binh Tan District, Binh Chanh District, and Hoc Mon District, which are in the process of rapid urbanization, report the highest growth of student numbers.
Creating favorable conditions for all students to attend school, many districts have increased class sizes and allowed students of some grades to join two sessions per day.
“A big challenge facing the district is a lack of schools and classrooms,” Khuu Manh Hung, head of the District 12 education and training bureau.
“The number of students attending two sessions per day remains modest, at 28 percent at elementary schools and 22.7 percent at middle schools.
“However, the district is seeing many elementary schools exceed their capacity, with over 50 students packed in a classroom.
“Many parts in the city are allowing elementary school students to attend classes every Saturday to reduce oversized classes.”
For the new school curriculum, teachers and students of grades 1, 2 and 3 at Tran Quoc Toan Elementary School will have to enter the school on Saturdays, said Nguyen Van Nguyen, principal of the school in Binh Chanh District.
|Dao Le Thien Phuc, a student of Thanh Da Middle School in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City and his grandmother are seen arranging textbooks and notebooks before returning to school. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre|
Various solutions put forward
Statistics from the Hanoi Department of Education and Training indicated that in the 2022-2023 academic year, the capital city has 2,835 schools with a total of more than 70,000 classrooms housing 2.2 million K-12 students.
In 2022, Hanoi built 51 more classrooms at a cost of over VND2.8 trillion (US$119.6 million) and spent VND5 trillion ($213.5 million) repairing 605 schools.
However, since the 2022-2023 school year started, many parts in the city have been facing school overcrowding.
Hoang Liet Ward, which reports a fast urbanization rate and has over 80,000 residents, annually sees 1,500-1,800 babies born.
The ward has one kindergarten, three elementary schools, and two middle schools.
These schools are now overcrowded, while the Hoang Liet kindergarten was reported to exceed its capacity.
Ha Dong, Cau Giay, and Nam Tu Liem Districts in Hanoi are confronted by school overcrowding due to mushrooming urban and residential areas.
Oversized classes are mainly seen at elementary schools. Many classes have up to 55 students each, much higher than the permissible level, according to the Hanoi Department of Education and Training.
Nguyen Thi Mai Hoa, principal of Me Tri Elementary School in Nam Tu Liem District, said that the class sizes of the first grade range from 52 to 54 students.
Some wards in the capital city already ran out of land for public school construction, said Tran The Cuong, director of the municipal Department of Education and Training.
Cuong said that his department has proposed building more floors at schools to address the class size issue.
Accordingly, functional rooms and those for teachers and staff will be located on high floors, while classrooms will be nestled on lower levels.
Another solution proposed by the leader of the municipal department is prioritizing the construction of public schools in inner-city areas after the headquarters of ministries, departments, universities, and factories are relocated to the city’s suburban areas.
|Students attend a class in Hanoi. Photo: Nam Tran/ Tuoi Tre|
Severe teacher dearth
According to the Hanoi education department, the capital city is facing a shortage of 7,147 teachers of all grades for the 2022-2023 school year.
As such, the department is considering allowing Hanoi University to introduce a major to train future teachers for the city, said Cuong.
Besides, Hanoi has proposed the Ministry of Home Affairs direct relevant agencies to allocate sufficient teachers and school staff to public schools to avoid a teacher shortage.
Also, the Mekong Delta provinces of An Giang and Dong Thap are worried about a lack of teachers.
Tran Thi Ngoc Diem, director of the An Giang Department of Education and Training, on August 21 said that the province has issued a decision allowing K-12 students to get back to school from August 29 to 31.
However, in the new school year, An Giang is grappling with a severe shortage of kindergarten teachers, so the provincial department will soon start a recruitment drive, Diem said.
In the same fashion, Dong Thap lacks some 200 teachers for elementary and middle schools, said Nguyen Thuy Ha, director of the local Department of Education and Training,
“Therefore, the department is prompting localities to support the province by sending their teachers to some schools. We are planning to recruit teachers and complete the recruitment drive in late November,” said Ha.
When parents homeschool their children in Vietnam
Homeschooling is no longer a strange concept in Vietnam, but the COVID-19 pandemic has turned many Vietnamese parents into homeschoolers.
The largest Facebook page for homeschooling attracts nearly 70,000 followers.
Study road map
After having dinner, at 7:00 pm, Pham Thi Diem, an office worker living in District 12, Ho Chi Minh City, and her nine-year-old son start studying online.
The two study with friends and foreign teachers in a homeschooling program licensed in the United States.
Up to now, Diem’s son has been ‘living in Vietnam, studying [math and English pronunciation] in the United States’ for more than six months.
For two hours in class, Diem is her son’s classmate. When the teacher is giving lessons, she also writes them down.
In speaking, the two read the words in chorus and then answer questions and do exercises together.
“It takes a lot of work for my son to study like today,” Diem recalled her son’s early days of studying the American program on his own.
Her son was not into studying. After turning on his computer and listening to the lesson, he started to yawn. She had to sit next to him to encourage him.
Later, she came up with the idea of studying together to get her son involved more and measure his progress at the same time.
She was in charge of English while her husband undertook Chinese teaching. They arranged alternately, one day for the American program and one day for Chinese.
Diem said that she does not really trust some foreign language centers due to incorrect teaching and pronunciation.
“Besides, with the same amount of money to study at the centers, why not let your child learn the original program of the native country?” she said.
Truong Hoang Minh, who lives in Thu Duc City under Ho Chi Minh City, provided her two children with full-time homeschooling based on a road map she has created for the next two years.
She thinks that early every morning is the time that her children will gain the most knowledge. Thus, she lets them study math and science.
In the early afternoon, they learn art and music, followed by basketball and swimming lessons at the end of the day.
From just teaching her children, she gathered a group of about seven students to have fun while studying. All of them are homeschoolers in Thu Duc City.
Every day, they will be in harmony with nature, while connecting with each other to help make up for the lack of communication in the process of online learning and to train their ability to work in groups as well.
Vuong, a freelancer in Ho Chi Minh City, has a son who is a second grader at Hong Ha Elementary-Secondary School in Binh Thanh District.
Since January 2021, he has let his son study the American homeschooling program in the evenings with the average of two hours per session.
There are 10 students from different regions in each class. Each period involves checking previous lessons, teaching new knowledge, and doing quizzes and extra exercises.
As for practice, the school also gives students software to experience 3D experimental space.
“There is an online library for students to find and read books if they want,” said Vuong.
Cases in need of homeschooling
According to education expert Bui Khanh Nguyen, homeschooling is often suitable for children who are able to learn independently.
The tuition fee for an online school is about VND250 million (US$10,560) per year, while international programs at private schools in Ho Chi Minh City cost about VND600-800 million ($25,360-33,815) a year.
Dr. Nguyen Thi Thu Huyen said that homeschooling should be more accepted in Vietnam.
|A supplied photo shows students attending one of the homeschooling activities held by Hoang Minh’s group.|
In addition to giving parents more options, it can help children with special needs.
Many children are slow on the uptake, making life tough for them to keep up with their peers in public schools in the first few years.
If homeschooling is available, parents may get their children homeschooling in grades one and two for the first three to four years.
After their knowledge and skills improve, students can transfer to public schools.
COVID-19 behind homeschooling spike
Education expert Bui Khanh Nguyen told Tuoi Tre (Youth) Weekly that his son left a public school and is attending a full-time homeschooling program.
His son, in grade eight, is studying an American program launched by an ‘online school’ with global enrollment.
The schedule is from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm with separate homeroom teachers. On the test-taking day, students do the test online, while the school will send their exam papers to independent units for marking.
As for British programs, students can take the test at the British Council as private candidates.
“The homeschooling community in Vietnam has expanded to about 10,000 children. Most parents supply their children with both foreign and Vietnamese programs simultaneously,” Nguyen said.
Pham Hieu Thi, a Dong Nai resident and an administrator of many homeschooling parent groups on social networks, saw a sharp increase in the number of group members after COVID-19.
Some groups reported a two- or three-fold rise in the number of members and posts compared to the pre-pandemic period.
Thi has allowed her ninth-grade child to join full-time homeschooling for two years after four years of ‘part-time’ homeschooling, meaning attending school but studying online at home.
She lets her child study both Abeka and Acellus homeschooling programs which are reputable in the United States.
Yet she realizes that they lack reading comprehension of literary works, so she adds foreign literature lessons.
She also spends time taking her child to sharing and discussing courses held in Ho Chi Minh City.
Knowing that her child is interested in agriculture, she allows him to visit the cyclical organic farms of young people.
Should homeschooling be recognized?
Dr. Nguyen Thi Thu Huyen at the University of East Anglia in the UK stated that in developed countries, homeschooling is credited as an alternative educational program, but it does not mean that parents can teach at will.
Enjoying compulsory general education is the right of children. Therefore, families who do not want to send their children to a formal school will have to explain it to them or be committed to using another method of education.
If homeschooling is chosen, parents are required to report their situations to local and welfare management organizations for verification.
After years of working in education in Vietnam, Dr. Huyen noticed that more and more parents are contacting her for advice on full-time homeschooling.
Their backgrounds are diverse but mostly belong to a few main groups.
The first group involves parents who studied abroad or are fluent in English, so they are quite confident letting their children study at home.
Most of them have active financial resources, are not working full-time, and can closely follow their children’s studying.
This group decides from the beginning that their children will not return to a public school.
When necessary, they will send their children abroad to continue their learning. This group is currently not large.
The second group consists of those who choose homeschooling to follow the trend. There is an increasing tendency in this sector. Parents in this group are well-off in terms of finance and time.
However, they do not possess education expertise. They create a teaching program by being introduced or self-evaluating lessons that they think are good for their children.
If parents fail to homeschool their children by themselves, they will look for a tutor while they make them ‘an editor’ of the learning program, Huyen said.
The third group includes the parents who bring their children to small groups of 10 or more, called ‘a school,’ but it operates as a skill education center.
Most schools are far from urban areas, partly to avoid the inspection of education management units.
These schools apply the Steiner method, which means students can play, paint, learn music, English and interact with nature. However, these programs are feeling-driven and not considered formal.
The former vice-principal of an international school in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City said that she had met up with three parents who sent their children to a Steiner school at an early age and wanted to transfer back to a regular school.
When taking entrance exams, these students disappointed their parents.
Their foreign language ability was not as good as their peers and even worse, they lacked many skills and knowledge.
They were great at imagination and creativity, but they lacked subject knowledge compared to their counterparts.
She added that many international schools are often quite cautious when accepting homeschooled children now, especially from the secondary level.
Parents frequently brag that their children are progressing very quickly; however, to experts, many of them are not up to the standard.
In other words, the success of homeschooling is usually heavily subjective on the part of parents.
Southern cities and provinces in Vietnam short of English teachers
At the start of the new school year, there is a shortage of English teachers not only in public schools but also in private centers for foreign language teaching in Ho Chi Minh City and southern localities, though teachers are being offered great advantages.
Tran Ngoc Duc, deputy director of H123 English Afterschool Center with eight branches in Binh Duong Province bordering Ho Chi Minh City, said his network of centers is back in operation since March after being closed for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, more teachers have been recruited since then as the number of existing teachers cannot meet learners’ demands.
Most foreign language centers are suffering from a shortage of both Vietnamese and foreign teachers.
At the same time, at the beginning of the new school year, the number of students has increased by one and a half times, sometimes even two times, compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Income increases of 30 percent for recruitment
According to Duc, many English centers in Binh Duong used to not recruit their own teachers and instead asked a mid-level human resources partner to do it for them.
For example, if a center needs teachers for a new semester, the partner will provide them.
However, at the moment, some of these job placement partners also have a shortage of teachers and cannot share with the centers as usual.
Duc explained that the shortage of English teachers is related to the fact that many large enterprises, especially enterprises with foreign investment capital, are restructuring their workforces after a prolonged period of stagnation due to COVID-19.
To this end, companies have launched large recruitment campaigns offering high incomes and many other benefits to attract employees with foreign language skills.
English centers are among the last services that were allowed to reopen in the new normal post-pandemic situation. Because of this, many people who used to be English teachers changed jobs.
“As for foreign teachers, it is very difficult to keep them even if the average salary increased by 20 to 30 percent,” Duc said.
A representative of a center with five English branches in Dong Nai, the province located east and northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, reported the same.
He believed that the shortage of English teachers has existed for a long time but has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
To solve the problem, the company needs to rotate its teachers between centers.
For example, a teacher must rotate between centers to cover classes. On days when there are fewer classes, the center’s teachers are assigned to other centers to assist.
According to Cao Thi Ngoc, a representative of the EVAC International English Center based in Binh Duong, many people have found working as English teachers at a center unsafe after two years of the pandemic.
They experienced being fired or not receiving a salary when something unexpected happens, depending on whom they work for.
As a result, according to Ngoc’s observation, there are more and more English teachers who found another job and consider teaching English in centers only as a side job.
Tran Ngoc Duc believed that the current shortage of English teachers cannot be solved in the short term, especially in small- and medium-sized foreign language centers.
In his opinion, centers are currently competing not only with others but also with enterprises in various industries when it comes to English-speaking staff.
According to Duc, thanks to stronger financial resources, enterprises in other sectors have a greater advantage in attracting staff with English skills than those in the education sector.
In addition, many education centers are already facing great difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his opinion, well-funded centers with good human resources policies can retain their teachers, while others have to rely completely on people who consider teaching English as their second job.
Duc suggested a way to train enough English teachers in the long run. According to him, it would be more sustainable to cooperate with universities that have English departments and offer them more benefits.
Meanwhile, education centers can cooperate with these universities in various activities to promote their companies to students who may want to become their employees after graduation.
In this way, teaching at English centers can become more attractive to students. At least, the centers can ask them to work in the first two years after graduation, Duc said.
A representative of Viet My Group (VMG), which has 10 branches in Dong Nai province, said they always need to offer more incentives to have enough teachers to meet the demands of a new school year.
In addition to salaries and bonuses, VMG teachers can also receive a commission if they help the company recruit high-quality English teachers.
The commission can be up to VND5 million (US$211) if the teacher recruited is a foreigner.
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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