The Vietnamese schooling system and attitude to education is vastly different to the western alternative. There are good and bad points to this.
– Vietnamese students appreciate education, well at least their parents do. It’s drilled into them from a very young age that they must study hard. If you ask a student what they did yesterday the guaranteed answer is ‘study’. Usually they ironically forget to use the correct past tense form ‘Studied’.
– An ingrained Confucian influence for respecting teachers combined with strict discipline in government schools means that for the most part Vietnamese students are very respectful and well behaved. Extremely so incomparison to English students of the same age. The teacher is the unquestioned authority figure and they do whatever you ask. Occasionally you may have to say someone’s name sternly, but that’s usually all it takes.
– They are genuinely interesting and interested. I learn a lot from them about the country and their viewpoints. In return they are interested in England and my life. Every time I get a new class and ask them if they have any questions it’s always the same ‘Do you have a boyfriend’ from the teenage girls.
– Vietnamese students are ambitious. I’m not sure if this is because of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, but in all the speaking tests I conduct I ask them what they want to be in the future. Whereas most 8-16 year olds wouldn’t know or would say something vague, these students say ‘Civil Engineer’ ‘Doctor’ ‘a famous dentist’. This demonstrates how quickly this country is developing. They’re the future.
– The downside of the way they are schooled in government schools means that they are very good at copying and memorising information, but they lack creativity. They can recite lists of irregular past participles but if you ask them to imagine or invent something, they are dumbfounded and take a lot of prompting.
– Having respect for the teacher is great, but it also means they don’t question anything. This can make it hard to stimulate interesting discussion or debate amongst older, higher level students. Even if I said something extremely controversial with the aim of igniting a debate, they say very little. They are used to only speaking when spoken to.
– They are very straightforward. A little to frank for my liking. The younger ones will often tell you that you are ‘fat’ or ‘big’. Well when everyone here is naturally sporting a 24 inch waist it’s hard not to feel a tad large!
– The negative side of the ambition (or parental pressure) is a sort of loss of childhood frivolity. When they tell you they spent their day studying, if you conversely ask them what they did in their free time, they almost always reply ‘sleep’ because they are exhausted from 7 days constant schooling. Today when asking students to double their age, a 9 year old genuinely responded ‘I will be 18 which means I can go to University! Wahoo!’. I am not exaggerating, this was his verbatim response. When I was 9 I didn’t know what GCSEs were, let alone a degree programme.
In conclusion, I really respect their drive, their manners and their hardwork. They can be fun, cheeky and enthusiastic learners. On the other hand I feel bad that they are constantly shuffled from English class, to piano lessons, the extra maths and IT class, in between normal lessons. Someone please give these children a day off!