Today consisted of three separate events in order to provide us with a well-rounded idea of the Vietnamese education system.
Ministry of Education and Training
Our first destination was a formal affair – it was the governing body in charge of the national education system. Vice Minister Bui Van Ga welcomed us but his stay was brief, as he had to run off to another engagement. His replacement, Director General Tran Ba Viet Dzung, came and told us about the goals of the Ministry. As director of the International Cooperation Department, Dzung spoke about the collaborations with various countries around the world in helping set up numerous programs to help bring education throughout Vietnam.
When the meeting opened to questions, we leapt at the chance to understand the complexities of the ministry’s master plan. Dr. Tatiana Melguizo asked whether or not Vietnamese universities were autonomous. Dzung said that the ministry was in the process of decentralizing higher education in order to give universities more freedoms; however, there was a lot of ground to cover before universities could act independently. Bernadette Tyrell asked if the ministry was acting with any sense of urgency to bring education to all of Vietnam. Dzung said the ministry’s goal was to have every Vietnamese student speaking English by 2015. He also mentioned the Ministry’s aim to reach into rural areas, identify leaders in education in order to provide short training programs to poorer communities.
Hanoi National University of Education
Our next stop allowed us delve deeper into Vietnamese higher education. We spoke with Nguyen Viet Thinh, president of the university, and Dinh Quang Thu, director of the Center for International Education and Training. A PowerPoint presentation taught us about the numerous programs the university has in operation to help educate people throughout the country along with opening up international opportunities for both faculty and students through joint research, training programs, language and cultural exchanges and exchange visits. Quang said the university was in the process of reshaping pedagogy and the curriculum to better serve an emerging student population in a growing global market.
Caugiay Upper Secondary School
This was the true highlight of the day. Students and faculty were enthusiastic to have us as their guests. We were given the red carpet treatment. Students greeted us decked out in traditional Vietnamese attire and led us to a tiny meeting room where we were treated to three musical presentations. The acts showcased the talents of a number of students: a duo performed covers of Linkin Park songs; another student delighted the crowd with a rendition of the Michael Jackson hit ‘Billie Jean’ along with spectacular choreography; and a group of young women performed a traditional Vietnamese dance dressed up in dazzling turquoise outfits while waving pink fans. Everyone in attendance, students and faculty alike, including us, got into the presentations with cheers.
With more than 1200 students, the school caters to teenagers between 16-18. Many of the students expressed the desire to explore world beyond the Vietnam border. A handful of students about to graduate said they planned to attend university, hopefully overseas. They were all excited to test their nearly perfect English on us; it was a testament to what the Ministry of Education and Training aspired to achieve.
We were then split up into tiny groups and ushered into different classrooms so we could witness firsthand the learning process in action. While we tried to go unnoticed, students giggled and couldn’t help but glance around at the strangers among them. It was a welcomed disruption to the school day. Job Springer stood up and commended the class on their achievements and how proud he was to observe them. Clarice Tuasivi and Bernadette Tyrell led their class in a school cheer that required everyone to stand up and participate. The entire classroom buzzed as students repeated the chant and waved their arms in unison. Michelle McGuire, Bria Morgan, Yma Dandridge and Bernadette were roped into a game that required them to imitate the moves of a student who volunteer to try to trick up the visitors. The APRISE students managed to keep up with the moves; however, each slight misstep caused the entire class to erupt in laughter.
The boom of a drum in the courtyard alerted us a break between classes. Everyone spilled into the hallway and conversations broke out about living in the United States, what university life was like and how we were enjoying Hanoi. Any shyness dissolved and more students approached us to fervently pick our brains about anything, everything. Another boom of the drum forced conversations to begrudgingly wrap up; but we felt, as we all departed, we left a lasting impression on these students and better insight to education in Vietnam.