In Vietnam, teachers go the extra mile to bring education to life

Teachers of ‘non-essential’ subjects in Vietnam are busy searching for new methods to keep their students excited and motivated.

Civics and office computer skills, two subjects that are considered ‘non-essential’ by the Ministry of Education and Training, often fall by the wayside as students dedicate their time to studying math, literature, English, physics, and chemistry in order to prepare for important exams. 

In order to keep their students engaged and focused on these ‘non-essential’ subjects, teachers are finding ways to keep their lessons learner-centered by incorporating fun activities and critical life skills.

From zero to hero

Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, a civics teacher at Duc Tri Middle School in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, spent years frustrated by her students’ lack of interest in her lessons. 

No matter how much she asked, she simply could not get them to pay attention or take notes. 

She knew she needed to make a change.

“I realized that students get bored easily if teachers stick rigidly to textbooks," Thuy explained.         

"Students just want to focus on the ‘main’ subjects so they can do well on life-defining exams. 

"It’s understandable, but it means they show almost no interest in ‘non-essential’ ones.”

In order to keep her students focused, Thuy began to reevaluate her lessons and incorporate innovated ideas into student-centered activities, regardless of how much time and effort lesson planning might take.

Her lessons now involve rewards for participation, game show-type quizzes, group discussions, and presentations on films and video clips.

Her success has been so well-noted that she is now considered one of the most popular teachers in the city.

Even Thuy’s approach to testing has changed. She now focuses on questions that challenge students’ attitudes and behaviors rather than their memories.

According to Thuy, a good civics teacher is able to help students apply what they have learned to their day-to-day lives.

Her success, she said, is worth the tremendous amount of time and effort she now puts into each lesson.

“I’m seeing results and I’ve gained a lot, but the biggest reward is my students’ smiles,” she explained.

Students eagerly participate in a biology class with their teacher, Luu Thi Dinh, at Thai Ninh High School, located in Thai Binh Province, northern Vietnam. Photo: T.L. / Tuoi Tre

Off the beaten path

Luu Thi Dinh, a biology teacher at Thai Ninh High School in the northern province of Thai Binh has had a teaching experience similar to Thuy's.

According to Dinh, the stress battling for her students’ attention had put her on the verge of quitting several times in her first five years of teaching between 2010 and 2015.

“I spent two thirds of the 45-minute class just trying to maintain order,” Dinh recalled, adding that there were times when she could not help but cry out of frustration.

Despite the importance and appeal of biology, with few students at her school planning to take the subject for their university entrance exams, most are indifferent to it.

“I found myself crying over my failures,” Dinh shared.

It was not until she stumbled across some video tutorials for new teaching approaches from Hanoi-based teacher Tran Khanh Ngoc that things began to change.

Dinh soon found herself among hundreds of other teachers taking part in Ngoc’s courses on teachers' missions as part of her positive teaching program.

“All I needed was for someone to rekindle my love for teaching,” Dinh said.

Now, her efforts to change are bearing fruit. She is presently able to build connections with her students and design lessons that concentrate on each learner’s specific needs.

Her fun- and attention-loving teenagers are kept busy with group discussions, presentations, and other class activities.

They no longer have time to make noise and are very enthusiastic about each learning opportunity.

“For the very first time, I have felt bliss from my teaching job. I even walk around giggling to myself,” Dinh said.

From ‘student-killer’ to coach

Dao Hai Tiep, a computing teacher at Hanoi-based Nguyen Tat Thanh Middle and High School, was once infamous for weighing students down with his demanding lessons and inflexible teaching methods.

He has now begun to change.

“My first changes included accepting the students as they really are and trimming my expectations and requirements to reduce pressure on them,” he shared.

Tapping into diverse applications of computing to various aspects of life and its support to other school subjects, Tiep moved his lessons from theory-based to practice-based, thereby piquing his students’ interest and encouraging them to put what they learn into daily life.

“Some even show keen interest and exceptional ability,” Tiep proudly shared about his own journey of change to bring out the best in his students. 

Under his coaching, teams of students have brought home high prizes at national contests for outstanding students in computing for the past several years.

Tiep was conferred with a merit certificate of ‘The Year’s Best Office Computer Teacher’ at the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship (MOSWC - Viettel 2020) held in Vietnam earlier this year.

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