VietNamNet Bridge – Learning in their own language had proven the most effective for minority children, a seminar to plan policies to improve their education was told in Ha Noi yesterday, Nov 21.
A geography teacher at Lung Cu Primary School in Dong Van District in the northern mountainous province of Ha Giang teaches students in their languages. (Photo: VNS)
Bilingual education had also raised their school attendance, said Ethnic Minority Department deputy director Le Hai Duong said.
But although Viet Nam had made remarkable progress in targeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for education, the gap in access and attainment between majority Kinh and minority children was widening.
"Language is the biggest barrier minority students face apart from poverty, gender imbalance and disease, deputy director Duong told the gathering of domestic and international educationists.
"They are forced to learn in a foreign tongue from their first day in school with only a few have a chance to attend preparation classes and, as a result, soon drop out."
United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF figures show that Viet Nam has about 11 million minority people who account for 13 per cent of the population.
The official language for teaching and study is Vietnamese and few teachers can speak minority languages.
The result is that only 61 per cent of minority students complete compulsory primary education.
The percentage for Kinh children is 86 per cent.
Education and Training Ministry Primary Education director Le Tien Thanh said the results of minority first graders in the 2009-10 academic year had been low.
The percentage of poor to average students in northern Ha Giang Province was more than 70 per cent; in Son La it was 61 per cent and in Lai Chau 62.
The number varied between 38 and 54 per cent elsewhere.
"Many provinces have successfully taught basic Vietnamese for minority pre-schoolers," said director Thanh.
"But the primary school curricula in Vietnamese is still a major difficulty for them because they not only have to learn a new language but also learn the knowledge contained in that language."
Efforts to help minority students access Vietnamese had included the increase of yearly sessions from 350 to 500 and the teaching of two sessions each day with extensions for first graders.
But inadequate facilities and a shortage of support for both teachers and students limited the results.
Participants told the seminar that mother-tongue-based bilingual programmes that are the result of co-operation between the Education and Training Ministry, UNICEF, and the non-governmental organisation, Save the Children, have strengthened the mastery of Vietnamese and promoted minority languages and culture among minority students.
A pilot programme agreed to between the ministry and UNICEF allowed Mong, Jrai and Khmer pre-schoolers in Lao Cai, Gia Lai and Tra Vinh provinces to study in their mother tongue as their major language and start learning Vietnamese as their second language between the third and fifth grades.
Vietnamese was compulsory only after the students finished their primary education.
The eight-year programme started in 2008 has helped 514 minority students become sufficiently adequate in Vietnamese to learn their lessons.
"All of 14 Mong students in my class are more self-confident about raising their hands to give their opinion and make friends when they study in their own language," said teacher Hoan Thi Phuong of Ban Pho Commune Primary School in Lao Cai Province's Bac Ha District.
"None play truant and their results are better than those who study in Vietnamese," she said.
An agreement between the Education and Training Ministry and Save the Children provides bilingual education for children in Quang Ninh and Dien Bien provinces.
Funded from a US$1.8 million grant, the purpose of the project is to support minority children aged 5-14.
Minority-language-speaking local assistants translate and help teachers with the lessons.
US-based Summer Institute of Linguistics Multilingual Education consultant Susan Malone said the model had been applied successfully in the Philippines with its 128 minority languages and Thailand, where five groups of minority students had accessed bilingual education.
UNESCO Education Programme Co-ordinator Santosh Khatri said learning in their mother-tongue allowed students to learn easier and faster and their parents to participate in their children's study. "The programmes will be effective if all the students are in the same ethnic minority group and have their own written languages," said Ethnic Minority Department Duong.
But the initial effort had been positive despite shortcomings.
The assistants were required to master both the minority languages and Vietnamese which caused difficulties because such teachers were limited in quality and quantity.
Participants suggested that the Government maintain the teaching of Vietnamese for pre-schoolers and introduce support policies for teachers who have to study minority languages as part of their careers as well as organise summer classes for them.
Children who attended two daily sessions to improve their Vietnamese language skills should be given a free afternoon meal.
And the pay for the assistant teachers should be increased because the monthly VND650,000 now paid was too low.
VietNamNet/Viet Nam News