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English teachers in southern Vietnam on the run to meet European standards

Hundreds of English teachers in the southern province of Ben Tre are flocking to the local Center for Continuing Education for an express training course in order to pass a qualification test to meet European standards, otherwise they could be disciplined.

English teachers in southern Vietnam on the run to meet European standards
English teachers in southern Vietnam on the run to meet European standards

More than 200 local English teachers could face discipline if they fail the test within the National Foreign Languages by 2020 project of the Ministry of Education and Training, with a goal of standardizing the English teaching staff.

According to the project, elementary and middle school English teachers must meet the third-highest skill level (B2) of the six-level Common European Framework of Reference for Languages while high school teachers must achieve the second-highest standard (C1).

Earlier, 900 local teachers attended the qualification test and only one of them passed the exam, so a training course has been set up to improve the teaching team’s level in order to the meet the standards.

Those are training to get the First Certificate in English (FCE), an English language examination provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment. The certificate is equivalent to the B2 level of the European framework.

Many teachers also take extra classes at the same time or hire tutors with hopes of passing the hard test ahead.

A teacher from Mo Cay Bac District said she had taken the exam five times in total but still has not obtained the FCE certificate. She has spent more than VND10 million (US$472) but still has no idea when she will be able to pass the test.

One-week express training course

Many teachers said the training is too urgent for them to study efficiently. A teacher in Mo Cay Nam District shared that the first training course was held in 2013, and the participants at that time also had to teach in schools, so it was a challenge to take the course as well as finish all of their school tasks.

“I had to teach at school, train students for competitions, and all the knowledge I got from the course was lost as a result. The last time I failed and this time I could probably fail again because I only have a one-week express training course,” he recalled.

Curriculum for the course in Ben Tre is provided by the Ho Chi Minh City-based EMCO JSC., after it won the Ben Tre Department of Education and Training’s bid to provide training for the teachers.

However, many teachers attending the course said that the curriculum is not fit to Cambridge’s tests.

In responding, the Ben Tre Department of Education and Training’s director Le Ngoc Buu said the department has assigned staff to monitor the course and give feedback to EMCO. The company has changed some instructors of the course after the teachers complained about the course’s quality.

“Teachers’ responsibility”

The Ben Tre Department of Education and Training’s director said the department early this month issued a dispatch regulating penalties on teachers who do not pass the test.

According to the regulation, teachers who do not pass the exam after the express course will have a chance to join another class and take a retest.

If they still cannot pass the retest, they have to pay for the course, while teachers who give up on the course will also receive a penalty.

Answering as to why the department did not announce the regulation at the beginning of the academic year so that teachers could have time to prepare, Buu said local teachers sent to the course on the state budget have the responsibility to study efficiently and pass the exam. They have to be disciplined if they fail their mission.

“They are English teachers so they must have methods to study efficiently. They cannot blame everything on the hard standards and fulfill their responsibility,” Buu said. “They have to look at themselves and see if they have studied seriously yet. We cannot afford the training cost if we ease controls and let them study the way they want.”

Meanwhile, N., principal of a high school in Ben Tre said the discipline on teachers is not very reasonable because improving the teaching team’s quality is a process that needs time and cannot be urgent like this. He also added the FCE standards are quite high with local English teachers.