Elementary school teachers and parents in Vietnam are complaining about the tremendous pressure placed on them by bulky curriculums for first-graders.
Thanh Huy, a reader, wrote to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that he was surprised to learn a set of textbooks for first-grade students includes 16 books, which he believes is a lot.
“Subjects like math, literature, nature, and society have two sets each. The math book has 184 pages, while the literature has 171 pages,” Huy said.
“Every night I get dizzy seeing how hard my kid prepares books for his class tomorrow morning,” he expressed.
“I don’t know why first-graders have to be stuffed with so many books containing a large amount of knowledge,” he stressed, adding that he found numerous tables, charts, drawings, and definitions in his child’s books which could cause problems even for adults.
In his letter to Tuoi Tre, Huy also pointed out some definitions that he had to look up in the dictionary when his kid asked him what they meant.
Huy is just one of many parents who have encountered problems when sending their kids to first grade in the Southeast Asian country.
Another reader, Vo Huong, said her child – who is also a first-grader – is getting quieter when she gets home after school.
“It’s because the curriculum for first-grade students is too heavy,” she underlined. “When I was a first-grader, all I had to learn was just a few simple letters, but now my kid is required to be able read and write.”
Huong also added she and her husband have to ‘study’ with their child until 9:00 pm, or even later, every day to finish homework and prepare for the next day’s lessons.
M. from Gia Lam District in Hanoi is also stuck in the same situation.
She said that she has had to spent time ‘studying’ with her kid every day since the beginning of this school year, and even she has been stressed by the amount of homework teachers give her child.
In Vietnam, an academic year often starts in late August or early September and closes in late May or early June the next year.
N.B.B., the parent of a first-grade student in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 3, also said that she has suffered from heavy stress after sending her kid to school.
B. elaborated that she and her husband have tried their best to force their child to study at home, while their daughter also tried her utmost to avoid studying by saying she does not feel well or is tired.
“We get tired every day of pushing her to study. I don’t know whether our first-grader gets stressed, but her mother almost goes nuts,” she added.
Teachers have also faced difficulties when they have to train students to be able to hold pens the right way, and learn 24 letters of the Vietnamese alphabet well.
According to the principal of an elementary school in the city’s District 9, first-graders have just transferred from preschools, where they mainly played games and studied just a little.
“When they move on to the elementary level, they are forced to remember a bigger amount of knowledge per day,” he said. “My nephew cannot remember all the things he studied at school.”
Another teacher in District 3 said that he does not want to compel his students to study, but has no choice.
“The Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training has allowed teachers to be flexible in arranging curriculums to suit students’ ability,” he said.
“However, if we make it slow at the beginning of the academic year, we have to rush at the end of the year to catch up with the exams,” he added.
‘The black sheep of the family’
To deal with the problem, many parents choose to send their children to after-hours classes to learn math and literature before they enter elementary school, in an effort to help them avoid being overwhelmed by the massive curriculum when the official school year begins.
However, in recent years, the Ministry of Education and Training has issued a regulation banning after-school classes for children before they enter first grade in the hope of bringing them a completely relaxing environment before they take the first step of their study life at school.
Parents are currently divided into two sides on the issue. One group still sends their kids to the extra classes before enrolling them in elementary school, while the other follows the regulation.
This also makes a number of children “the black sheep of their family.”
Nguyen Vo Bao Ngoc, a teacher from Van Tuong Elementary School in Ho Chi Minh City’s Phu Nhuan District, said she has to balance lessons because some students in her class have known the alphabet since age five, but some have no idea what letters are.
In Vietnam, kids enter elementary school at age six.
“Students who already know letters usually finish exercises in class more quickly than students who haven’t studied before,” Ngoc said.
“That makes them lose their confidence and become frustrated with school on seeing their classmates do the tasks better than them,” she added.
Le Thi Ngoc Hanh, the principal of Truong Thanh Elementary School in the city’s District 9, said that first-grade teachers are under a lot of pressure when they have to teach a class that includes both kinds of students: ones who already have basic knowledge, and those that have no idea at all.
“In reality, many teachers have taught lessons very slowly, but some students still could not follow it,” Hanh said.
As a result, many kids returning home from school whined that they do not want to go to school because they are scared of learning.
A principal from an elementary school in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 5 said his school had reported that students are overloaded with the current curriculum, and the Ministry of Education and Training has already reduced the amount of work required, but the situation remains unchanged.
“In fact, many teachers are also hurried to force students to be good and put pressure on them,” he said. “Some teachers are not careful about commenting on students and so tend to discourage children and their parents.”
“Parents should talk directly to their children’s teachers to ease the pressure,” he suggested.