Maire McCainn, a 65-year-old Australian national, is the owner and founder of a school for special needs children in Hoi An Ancient Town, located in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam.
Her campus is at 203 28-3 Street, Thanh Ha Ward, roughly three kilometres away from the heart of the famous touristy town.
The ‘school of silence’
Inside the humble campus, dozens of children are seen eagerly scribbling.
Equipped with hearing aids, their teachers use hand gestures to convey their ideas. Both are immersed in their lessons.
As the recess time is over, one of the instructors swiftly signs to summon the children running around in the yard, signalling to them that it is time for lesson revision.
The children are quick to resume their posts in an orderly fashion, with their eyes turning to the teacher.
Dong Thi Nhu Lien – the school manager – stands in front of a board, using her hands to indicate the date and time already written there.
The children begin to focus, pulling out notebooks from the bags and starting to practice writing letters and sentences.
“Visitors are amazed by the brilliance and good manners of the children here,” says Lien.
“Both the bigger and smaller children are trying hard to practice writing letters like first graders in normal school.
“They are still making slow progress in their literacy.
“But only that much is such a wonder to us.”
Tran Van Son is the first student of this silent school. Originally from Hoi An City, he is born to a farmer couple and suffers inborn loss of hearing.
He appears as a tall handsome boy. Twenty minutes into the official class hour, he hurriedly dashes from outside with a notebook in his hand.
In no time, Son is seated at his place, passionately scribbling his words.
Before this school was opened, Son merely ran errands around his house because there was no school for special needs children like him.
His parents sent him immediately when this school came into operation.
Maire McCainn is known to the locals as ‘co Mai’ or ‘me Mai,’ which translates as ‘teacher Mai’ or ‘mother Mai.’
These are the dearest words that Vietnamese people use to address a teacher they adore.
This former nurse from Australia visited Hoi An in 2006 when she had a family problem. This old town helped heal her pain.
Seeing the large number of disabled children uncared for, she had a change of plan.
“In developed countries, those disadvantaged and disabled children are placed in special educational institutes with tailored learning programs,” McCainn said.
“In Vietnam, this is lacking in many regions.
“I met two deaf children in Hoi An and I have been thinking about how to help them since then.”
After her journey in 2006, she returned several times to discuss her ideas with friends. She was asking around about the demand for a special needs school and the required paperwork to open up a support center for children.
McCainn received a great deal of support from both her Australian and Vietnamese contacts and soon realized her ambition.
The most devout supporter is Lien, who is currently the manager of the place.
|At the ‘school of silence’ run by Maire McCainn and a group of dedicated teachers and staff, children get an education and interaction in an environment of love and respect. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre|
According to Lien, it took years to meet all the legal requirements before the school could finally launch in 2011.
McCainn rejoiced on the opening day as if she had finally found the joy of life at over 50.
Teacher Mai rents the premises to run her school. At first, it was located inside the center of Hoi An Ancient Town, but later was moved to the outskirts as the number of children grew.
According to the school manager, parents from all over Quang Nam Province, which administers Hoi An, soon signed their children up when news of this school opening reached them.
Children were coming over from the province’s Duy Xuyen, Que Son, and Dien Ban Districts.
The disadvantaged kids had lived a boring life with little interaction due to their family’s financial difficulties and a shortage of educational facilities.
Within months, the ‘silent school’ of mother Mai had no vacancy left. They have an annual waiting list of hundreds of children.
One uncompromisable principle in this school is that teachers will not yell at or physically punish children however rude and disrespectful the little ones can be.
Sometimes after blending in with the culture here, many children have become disciplined and displayed great manners.
Interestingly, some of the students have graduated and currently work here as teaching assistants.
Fundraising through Wi-Fi
The school of teacher Mai charges a maximum amount of VND800,000 (US$35) for every child. Those in financial difficulty receive free education.
This income is modest compared with the monthly cost of approximately VND80 million ($3,500), including the rent, payroll, and the children’s lunches.
To cover the expenses, McCainn has been setting aside a three-month break every year when she heads back to Australia to work as a nurse in remote areas.
Due to the lack of staff and the challenge of the work in these places, she earns a higher pay and saves up to keep her ‘silent school’ running in Hoi An.
Besides, she receives voluntary donations from 20 of her friends on a monthly basis, even though they are on pensions.
Teacher Mai also runs one special fundraising event: a virtual coffee meeting when she meets up with others via the Internet.
The money donated through this activity goes into the treasury of the school for the deaf.
Instead of meeting in person at a coffee shop, participants in this meeting will connect through their phones and set aside $3.62, the approximate price for one cup of coffee, for the children’s fund.
To cut down her expenses, teacher Mai has been living with a friend of hers instead of renting her own place.
Her school currently has 25 students, the smallest being eight years old and the oldest 18.
There are six teachers, one janitor and other teaching assistants.
Parents drop off their children at 7:30 every morning and pick them up late in the afternoon.
The children get to learn how to write, read, interact, and blend in with the community.
Many of them have become sufficiently skilled to enter public schools.
This ‘school of silence’ is also a place for vocational training for older students.
Scholarships worth $440,000 awarded to 800 children who lost parents to COVID-19 in Vietnam
The Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training, alongside two subsidiaries of Bitex Group, has announced it will award 800 scholarships worth a combined VND10 billion (US$440,238) over the next five years to local children who lost at least one parent to COVID-19.
The ministry, Binh Tay Import-Export JSC, and Anh Khue Watch JSC on Tuesday presented 400 scholarships to children who lost at least one of their parents since the beginning of the latest coronavirus outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City.
The remaining 400 scholarships will be awarded to children in Dong Nai province, Binh Duong Province, and other localities across the country.
“The scholarship will help pay for the education and daily needs of those children who lost one or both parents so that they can have some stability in their lives,” Dr. Tran Van Lam, an official from the education ministry, said at the sponsorship event on Tuesday.
“We hope it will reduce the burden and pain of losing their loved ones.”
The children supported by the program will receive need-based aid until they turn 15 years old, according to Nguyen Xuan Dung, chairman of Bitex Group.
A different level of sponsorship will be provided when they are between 15 and 18 years old.
|Students who lost loved ones to COVID-19 receive scholarships at a ceremony in Ho Chi Minh City, January 11, 2022. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
At Tuesday’s event, several of the scholarship recipients took the stage to tell their stories.
“After the death of my father, I was so sad,” said Nguyen Le Ngoc Anh, a third grader, whose grandmother and father died of COVID-19.
Anh is now living with a sick mother and a 15-month-old sibling.
“My mother and the whole family were very worried about me, but now many people seem to understand what I’m going through, so they help me to feel better,” she said.
Duong Tien Thanh, a ninth grader whose mother died of COVID-19 about five months ago, thanked the sponsors for consoling him and motivating him to study hard for a better future.
Ho Chi Minh City has documented more than 509,501 COVID-19 infections, including 20,018 deaths, out of the 1,659,113 patients recorded nationwide since the fourth virus wave hit Vietnam on April 27, 2021.
The latest coronavirus outbreak has taken away the parents of 1,517 students in the southern metropolis, according to the municipal Department of Education and Training’s statistics announced in September last year.
During the ongoing flare-up, more than 2,500 children across the country have lost parents, according to Suc Khoe & Doi Song (Health & Life), the mouthpiece of the Ministry of Health, which cited the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs last November.
More localities welcome students back to school in Vietnam
Monday saw students return to brick-and-mortar classrooms in more localities across Vietnam after they had taken online lessons at home for a long time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those localities include Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province, Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai Province, An Giang Province, Hanoi, and Bac Giang Province, where the outbreak has stabilized.
In Ba Ria – Vung Tau, ninth and 12th graders were the first school returnees pursuant to a temporary schedule that has been planned until February 12, including the Lunar New Year holiday from January 24 to February 6.
In Ho Chi Minh City, education authorities in Cu Chi District allowed seventh and eighth graders to come back to school on Monday.
Ninth, tenth, 11th, and 12th graders in Cu Chi District and all students of the six aforementioned grades in other districts had resumed offline learning since January 4.
In Dong Nai Province, ninth and 12th graders in Bien Hoa City pioneered in-person learning on Monday while students in other grades are expected to follow suit on February 14.
In An Giang Province, schools only reopened to certain ninth and 12th graders in Chau Phu District under a pilot scheme.
In Hanoi, 12th graders in areas at low and medium risk of COVID-19 transmission in Hai Ba Trung and Tay Ho Districts, as well as ninth and 12th graders in those at the same levels of COVID-19 safety in Thanh Tri District restarted in-person lessons on Monday.
In Bac Giang City under the namesake province, kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and vocational schools have resumed offline operations since Monday.
Schools at all levels across Vietnam have intermittently closed and reopened in light of the complicated developments of the COVID-19 fourth wave since early May 2021.
Vietnam has reported 1,914,393 patients, including 31 imported Omicron infections, since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the country in early 2020.
Health workers have given over 161 million vaccine doses since vaccination was rolled out nationwide on March 8, 2021.
More than 78.2 million of the country’s 98 million people have received at least one dose while upwards of 71.1 million have been injected twice.
English centers remain quiet notwithstanding permission to reopen in Ho Chi Minh City
Many English language centers in Ho Chi Minh City have remained closed even though local authorities already allowed the resumption of in-person learning earlier this week.
Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper has contacted some popular English centers such as VUS, ILA, and YOLA, whose consultants said they were unclear when in-person classes would resume even when Vietnam has switched to living safely with the coronavirus from a zero-COVID strategy, backed by a wide vaccine coverage rate.
Most courses are still organized online, but learners can register for offline classes in advance by taking placement tests virtually.
Now is not a good time
This is not a suitable time to welcome back learners as most students are busy with their first-term exams at school, a representative of SEAMEO Regional Training Center explained, adding that students will have a Lunar New Year break in about three weeks.
Do Thuy Hong, CEO of IvyPrep Education, said she is glad that foreign language centers are permitted to offer in-person classes, but IvyPrep Education is still concerned about the safety of students, staff, and the community given the COVID-19 pandemic.
The center is conducting a survey to assess the demand of students and their parents before making further decisions, Hong added.
It may apply a hybrid learning model, which includes 50 percent of online classes and 50 percent of in-person courses.
“We encourage fully-vaccinated middle school and high school students to take part in offline courses, while elementary school students should continue with remote learning,” Hong elaborated.
Most learners are not vaccinated
Aside from facilities running preparatory programs for English certificates such as the IELTS and TOEIC tests, most English centers in Ho Chi Minh City offer their courses to young learners, according to a manager of a center in Tan Binh District.
The manager said more than 65 percent of the learners at his facility are elementary school students, who have not received COVID-19 vaccination.
Meanwhile, learners and teachers must be inoculated with at least one dose to partake in offline classes at local centers, according to public health regulations.
“Unless authorities set out specific criteria for younger learners, we will have to wait until elementary school students are vaccinated to reopen,” the manager said.
A representative of APAX Leaders said that the center will maintain remote learning in the meantime as most of its learners are in seventh grade and lower.
|An English center remains closed in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Trong Nhan / Tuoi Tre|
Foreign teachers count the days
Raphael Galuz, a Frenchman who teaches English at a center in District 7, said he had had challenging months as strict social distancing measures resulted in his wage being halved.
His center had to lower tuition fees to discourage learners from quitting during the pandemic, and thus teachers’ payment also decreased, Galuz explained.
Chubby Vinaltino, a Singaporean teacher at an English center in Tan Phu District, said he is teaching only two classes, about eight hours, per week, which is four to five times lower than before the outbreak began on April 27 last year.
Vinaltino only received US$10 for an hour of online teaching, compared to the $15-20 per hour that he got from in-person instruction.
The teacher added that his income had shrunk by $70-80 per week, which made it difficult for him to pay for food, rent, and utilities.
“Three of my friends who are English teachers have had to move to cheaper places to live,” Vinaltino said.
Some even had to sell their own phone, he added.
Vinaltino said his only wish is that English centers welcome back learners as soon as possible, which will help foreign teachers solve their financial problems.
Future is now
15,935 new coronavirus cases recorded on Friday
Update of COVID-19 new cases in Việt Nam on Jan. 21 afternoon
Health ministry plans to buy 21.9m Pfizer COVID vaccine doses for children aged 5-11
Efforts made to stop consumption of dog and cat meat in Việt Nam
Tourism 2021: opens today, closes tomorrow
Environmental protection tax on jet fuel to be cut by half in 2022
VIETNAM NEWS HEADLINES JANUARY 7
NA’s first extraordinary session to make timely decisions for socio-economic recovery
FDI forecast to recover in 2022
First Vietnamese representative at a Winter Olympic
Da Nang museums attracting domestic visitors with free entry policy
Nom, nom, Việt Nam – Episode 76: Fried cheese sticks
In Sa Pa, ethnic children forced to peddle on streets in bitterly cold night
Nom, nom, Việt Nam – Episode 74: Huế beef noodle soup
Business6 days ago
M&A in technology booms during pandemic
Business1 week ago
Vietnam coffee industry targets US$6 billion export value in 2030
Business1 week ago
Shares plunge on increased profit-taking pressure
Business2 weeks ago
Unable to cross the border to China, farm produce is sold on pavements
Society2 weeks ago
VIETNAM NEWS HEADLINES JANUARY 11
Sci-tech-environment2 weeks ago
Monkeying around: farmers focused on langur protection
Business1 week ago
Coffee industry targets $6 billion export value in 2030
Politics2 weeks ago
Vietnamese, Lao PMs witness signing of nine cooperation documents