It’s no secret that the kids here are over educated. The students I teach go to their normal Vietnamese school 5 or 6 days a week, and then on their days off they come to my school for 3 hours of English lessons a day. They either come straight from school on a weekday evening, or from some other lesson on a weekend. They take extra English classes, extra math and science classes as well as music classes and other extra curricular hobbies. These poor students are exhausted. They even have handwriting lessons in cursive script, I have 6 year olds who have neater handwriting than me.
Two things happened today that illustrate this. Firstly, a student’s parent telephoned my teaching assistant to complain that his 8 year old ONLY got 89% in his mid-course test. The boy is 8 years old and is almost achieving 90% in a foreign language exam and his dad is still angry it’s not higher!
Second example: One boy has to leave my class 15 minutes early every Sunday to go to ‘Mental Maths Club’. The ‘club’ bit made it sound reasonably exciting. However, I looked at his books and essentially he goes to a room with other students and does pages and pages of long division and multiplications. I couldn’t do half the maths in his workbook and he is nine years old! The poor boy is ferried from one class to the next and there is so much extrinsic pressure on him, and the other students, to do well.
Vietnam is a developing country, yet it’s developing so rapidly and there are so many new industries and jobs to be had. It’s so competitive and the educational emphasis is on maths, science, business and computer science as the country hurtles forward in the digital age. The kids hate history, they hate literature and according to my Vietnamese friends those subjects are taught in a very boring way. You memorise a list of dates and the government perspective on national history, there’s no subjectivity. Also, every single person I met of university age is studying ‘business’, ‘commerce’ or something along those lines. Plus in every speaking test I’ve done the students tell me that they want to work ‘in business’ or be a dentist or engineer etcetera. It’s good to have aspirations but what nine year old wants to be a civil engineer? I’m pretty sure most British kids want to be astronauts, footballers or firemen. I think this is another example of the luxuries we have that we don’t appreciate enough.
In a country trying so hard to catch up with the first world there’s no room for dwelling on subjects like history, art, philosophy, or literature. This is really obvious when you get students to do a creative task, like inventing something for example, they struggle because they’re not used to thinking outside the box or being encouraged to think for creativity’s sake.