Right after reading the title, you can murmur “Again!” No doubt this is a hackneyed subject. However, most of the education experts cover quite a broad arena of education: from the methods of teaching to class time and teacher pay, while most the criticisms are mostly just sighs taking place in the Internet or daily sighs from students when chatting in the break time. In this post, I will just focus on the just the teaching methods, which I collect from my dispersed memories about my school time. You can literally count this as my subjective evaluation. But I really experienced it first hand. The basic teaching method does not change from elementary level to tertiary education.
1) Information is prioritized over knowledge and skills.
It’s quite boring in school. I remember I spent most of the time sleeping, daydreaming, doing assignments of other classes or eating snacks rather than listening to the lecture. Well, it sounds quite guilty huh. But how do you think if I tell you that usually in the Literature class, my buddy sitting next to me was eating yoghurt or reading manga? This happens to me and my buddies not only in Literature class but also Civic Education, Technology and Informatic Science, Music and……too many to count. (I won’t count Math here because Math is something unique. It is way universal. You can translate the words of a teacher of Math in a random school in the US and then find it quite the same in a random school in Vietnam.) This happens in nearly all classes. Teachers may be upset to hear that but it’s true. In second string schools, there are even cases that students play cards at the corner of the classroom. Why? Well I have to say that of course each of us is interested in not all but just a few subjects in school, but that’s different. Students do not see subjects as different angles from which they can look into lives, evaluate and then learn how to deal with difficulties and teachers cannot deliver this viewpoint to their students. Of course there are thousands reason to justify this: Their pay is low; they are pressured to impress administrators by students’ exam results… Whatever the reason, they cannot deliver, communicate their experiences, their enthusiasm, and their fire with the subjects to students. It’s disappointing. All we have to absorb is the details without knowing the use of each detail in helping us get a reality-oriented big picture. We are not allowed enough time and space to gradually get the artistic sense of each literary masterpiece. Simply to say, getting an individual evaluation towards a short story which is in the textbook is never encouraged because expressing our own emotions cannot help us to have a high grade. We are forced to conform, to learn by heart the long-written excerpts by distinguished literary reviewers. In subjects other than literature, summarizing and generalizing is not encouraged, because what is asked in exams is: details. In history, students are encouraged to remember each date. In geography, students are told to remember specialties of each region. In Civic Education, they have to memorize all clauses cited in the textbook. This teaching method is maintained standard from elementary to college, so Vietnamese students don’t have even one minute to ask: “What the heck the use of memorizing all these? We soon forget them right after handing the exam paper.” Even if they are intelligent (actually they are because Internet access is ubiquitous these days and of course they know how the American kids are much sparer than they are.), they still force themselves to forget (what’s the point of being fussy about the education system? They can’t appeal to the Prime Minister.) and bone up for exams. Why? If you summarize to get a big picture, Vietnamese teachers tend to put the skill to comprehend the big picture on the same par with the inability to study thoroughly and remember details (literally the laziness). Of course when a skill is not encouraged, it is not taught in schools and no one is able to teach as well (they are not trained to teach such skills as comprehensing, analyzing, summarizing, paraphrasing, decision modelling in pedagogy college either.)
Evaluation: when detail is prioritized over skills and knowledge, Vietnamese education system push unprepared individuals into a society. They are myopic, short-termed. Vietnam definitely do not need these people for such a developing society. But they are struggling to deal with the things they have
2) One, the teacher is always right. Two, if this is not right, look at one.
Vietnamese society is imbued with Confucian values. The teacher is the teacher. They teach students and are models for morality and a healthy lifestyle. They are expected to be strict rather than be friends with students and lead students to research, discover by themselves. Therefore, the teachers are expected to be omniscient. They may feel ashamed if they don’t know the answer to a question from students. If they don’t know, rather than say “I may research about it after class and get back to you later”, they may confuse students with counterquestions to have students discover by themselves. This leads to the hatching of disrespect toward teachers, hence students may ignore the lectures (because they think they can learn by themselves anyway) and even use foul language when talking about teachers behind their back.
3) Students are not taught basic skills: to doubt and to critically write.
Literature is considered a very important subject, equivalent to Math, occupying a large portion of class time. But in Literature, after reading a literary work, students are always required to pinpoint the achievements of the author or the distinguished elements of that work. They are never required to review critically. They are not told that in any writing tasks, they have to name out the scope they want to cover (with premises), then have points and support each points by evidence. Of course students learn something called “evaluation and critical writing” (văn nghị luận) from secondary school, it is not quite a highlight in the whole program. Vietnam is developing from a rural agricultural society into an industrialized one, which is a troublous time. People need to be able to doubt about the credibility of each information source. Hence, they need to be able to comprehend the time, the context, the purpose of each work, then analyze it, then get the sense of imbalance or inconsistency if available to evaluate whether that work has fulfilled the author’s intention or not. Unfortunately, in schools, students spend most of their time managing to write (or bone up others’ writing) about the aesthetic values of literary works. If assigned a presentation (for a random subject), they can obtain any information source from the Internet without citations. They take whatever available rather than spend time considering the credibility of each data source to obtain a big picture about various perspectives toward the researching object.
All of the shortcomings in teaching method mentioned above should be viewed within the context of Vietnamese education as a whole. Students consider study as a duty, a process that they must experience to get to college (the so-dubbed only way to get a job and to gain respect, because Vietnamese government does not allow home education or online education) rather than a valuable opportunity to equip themselves with skills to deal with difficulties and make decisions after graduation. Imagine that you have to wake up early at 5 or 6 in a sleepy-to-death state, hustle amid the crowd in city buses, rush to school, listen to boring lectures, then rush to extra classes in the evening (1. Because the competition to get college admission is fierce, students are compelled to take extra classes. 2. Many teachers tend to recommend students to take their own extra classes as a must in order to receive high grade in official class because the pay is low, teachers need to augment their meager salary.) As I mentioned above, all these are just summarized from my first hand experiences (and anecdotes from the Internet and my buddies as a second hand source), so don’t blame me if I stereotype a bit.