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Education for all, if you're lucky

Publication Date : 24-05-2012


Two incidents occurred last week that have raised questions about the way the education sector is managed in this country.

The first involved parents, desperate to get their hands on an entrance examination form for their children, pushing and shoving outside a primary school in Ha Noi. Hundreds of parents had spent the night queuing outside the popular State-run Ha Noi Experimental Primary and Secondary School in the pouring rain on behalf of their children. The result was perhaps predictable when the school gates opened the next morning: the 600 parents who had braved the elements for the 300 application forms available for the 140 first-grade places this year ended up fighting to get through the school gates, which frantic security guards slammed shut. But as the crowd surged forward, the gates came crashing down and the school had to postpone handing out test papers until the next day.

It's a similar story each year at the country's more popular schools when enrolment begins. It ought to be borne in mind that Ha Noi Experimental Primary and Secondary School, now in its 30th year, is not the most popular school in the capital. So what happened?

Parents justified the mayhem by saying that the school was highly regarded by educationalists and past students. They also said tuition fees were modest and that many of its alumni had gone on to achieve academic and professional success, such as maths guru Ngo Bao Chau.

One mother said that she knew her child, who was hoping to study literature at university, would be tested not so much on whether his answers were right or wrong, but rather on whether he could adequately express his innermost feelings.

Meanwhile, the images of the school gates crashing down and desperate parents trampling over the fallen made their way onto national TV, were covered in newspapers, and discussed on Facebook and Twitter. The response was predictable – mirth, criticism and shame.

But those not involved, should perhaps spare a thought for the parents who just want to give their offspring the best chance in life. It should also be borne in mind that the school in question prides itself in offering a different type of education, one that encourages creativity and fun, not bucket loads of book learning.

The fiasco outside Ha Noi Experimental Primary and Secondary School says a lot about the educational system in this country. Educators have long ignored the concerns and complaints of parents about this country's regressive educational system that places too much emphasis on rote learning and memory and shuns originality.

Meanwhile, just a few days after Ha Noi Experimental Primary and Secondary School's gates came crashing down, other parents were incensed to hear that 94 students that had won scholarship under State-funded Project 322 were going to be left high and dry.

Project 322, designed to train some of the country's brightest and best in science and technology overseas and funded by the State budget, was launched in 2000 under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET). By 2011, 4,600 students had been sent to study abroad in 34 countries at a total cost of VND2.5 trillion (US$120 million). Last week, MoET announced that the scholarships it had awarded in 2011-12 would be axed due to financial constraints.

As a result, the 94 students that were about to go abroad, don't know what to do. Most had already received places at their chosen universities in the US, France and Germany.

To resolve the problem, MoET suggested two solutions – either they wait for future Government funding or apply for another scholarship. And if they wished to apply for a scholarship in another country, they'd better make sure they'd learnt that country's language, be it Chinese, Russian, Spanish or Arabic – a basic requirement when studying abroad.

And MoET, not wanting to look complacent, gave them until June 1 to let the ministry's Department of International Education Development know of their decision. If not, the ministry said the candidate's application would not be taken further, or more exactly, "The ministry would be of the opinion that the candidate has no more desire to study abroad."

Not only is MoET's response to the problem (of its own making) unacceptable, it demonstrates just how out of touch it really is.

Lack of funding is one thing (though it should have been anticipated far earlier) but the ministry's handling of the "crisis" lacks sensitivity and judgement.Two stories, two problems. What they do have in common is that they both involve the education sector and they both demonstrate a clear lack of vision. Something needs to be done about the education sector and it needs to be done urgently, after all, we are not just talking about our children's future, but also that of the country.


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