Growing up on the back of a motorbike
Eat. Study. Sleep. Or how Vietnamese students keep up with their busy timetables on two wheels.
“My daughter’s schedule is pretty tight," said Minh, the parent of a 5th grade student living in District 12, HCMC. “She wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to check her homework, and then I take her to school at 6 a.m. on my way to work. She can come home for lunch and take a rest before her English class starts at 4 p.m. at a language center. Her day ends at 10 p.m. after dinner and homework.”
In between classes, Minh’s 10-year-old daughter usually takes a quick nap on the back seat of the motorbike as her mother tries to negotiate the busy traffic.
In Ho Chi Minh City, it is common to see two-wheel vehicles transform into moving beds for kids before and after school hours. Many are exhausted from a school day that starts at 7:30 a.m., while others try to recharge en route to the next extra class.
Seeming to understand the need, manufacturers have introduced special pillows that can be attached to the bikes for the sleepy kids to rest their heads on, and safety belts are available to strap the lolling kids to their parents and deny gravity its satisfaction.
Street vendors are also on hand to sell snacks for hungry students unlikely to make it home on time for dinner to munch on the back of the bikes.
Vietnam’s education system has been praised for its learning-productivity-per-year. Not only proven in the annual PISA tests, Vietnamese children are slightly outperforming those in other developing countries even by the age of five, and the gap is growing each year, according to a 2014 report by Abhijeet Singh that linked the Oxford Young Lives survey with an international test.
The so-called "Vietnam effect" was attributed to the government's investment in education and "cultural differences”, such as the respected role of teachers.
In that same year, however, another study found that Vietnamese students also suffered from severe stress during exam season, including depression, sleeping disorders and anxiety.
“Students these days have little time for relaxation and entertainment. They’re too busy going to extra classes and doing their homework,” Nguyen Thi My Chi, a community health graduate student at the Ho Chi Minh City Medical University who conducted a survey of 500 students from tenth to 12th grade from both gifted and normal schools, told local media in 2014.
Students these days have little time for relaxation and entertainment. They’re too busy going to extra classes and doing their homework.Nguyen Thi My Chi, a community health graduate student at the Ho Chi Minh City Medical University
Many kids are bound to their parents’ work schedules and are dropped off at school as early as 6 a.m. when their parents are on their way to work.
Behind the curtain lies a harsh reality where students have to struggle to keep up with strict school timetables and their parents’ and country’s expectations.
A girl catches up on reading while stuck with parents in a traffic jam.
An uneasy rest.
A boy tries to sleep under the hot sun on Cong Hoa Street.
Quynh Tran, Nhung Nguyen