New school year amid pandemic leaves parents in distress

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenAugust 22, 2021 | 04:26 pm PT
With the new school year in sight, many parents are apprehensive about Covid-19 infection risks, the efficacy of online learning and hurdles posed by lockdowns.

Two weeks before a new school year kicks off, Nguyen Thi Hanh, a white-collar worker in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 7, has no idea how her seven-year-old son, who is currently with her parents in neighboring Long An Province, will start his school year.

"I sent him there to avoid the Covid storm in Saigon, but now I cannot go there to pick him up, or even buy him new books for the coming school year," she said. Besides, she cannot focus on her son’s education amid the raging pandemic, she added.

"Safety is first, no one is in the mood for a new school year when thousands of new Covid cases are detected every day."

She is among millions of parents across the country who are worried that their children are about to start a new school year in the midst of the pandemic.

As of Monday, Vietnam has recorded nearly 344,000 Covid cases in the current outbreak that started on April 27.

A girl has her hands sanitized upon arriving at a primary school in Go Vap District, HCMC, May 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

A girl has her hands sanitized upon arriving at a primary school in Go Vap District, HCMC, May 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

One of their concerns is online learning, which did pose numerous issues in the previous school years.

In HCMC, with the Covid-19 outbreak yet to be contained, teachers are preparing for online classes for students starting in mid-September.

Hanoi also expects its students to study online.

But the unstable Internet connectivity has been a major obstacle for many.

Nguyen Thanh Huyen, a woman in Hanoi’s Long Bien District, said: "Online classes again? I upgraded my Internet package last year, but it was useless. The teacher’s voice always dropped due to a slow connection."

Her 15-year-old son, preparing for his high school entrance exam last year, kept complaining about the connectivity, and so she is worried about a repeat.

Meanwhile, people with young children, who are naturally distracted, are worried the new type of classroom will leave their children bored.

"How can a seven year-old boy focus on a lesson from a computer screen for many minutes at a time?" Huyen, whose younger daughter will enter primary school this year, asked.

Tuition fees for online lessons are another concern since many private schools have not said they would cut them this year and many parents’ incomes have been hit by the pandemic.

"The quality is never the same as regular class, but the school keeps charging the same fee, that’s unfair," Huyen, whose daughter studies at a private school in Sai Dong Ward in Long Bien, said.

The current social distancing is also a hurdle, causing children to be stranded in various relatives’ places, making preparations for a new school year a challenge.

Le Thi Yen of Hanoi’s Ba Dinh District sent her children to her parents' house in the northern Nam Dinh Province after the end of the last school year in May.

Now Hanoi is still under Directive 16, requiring people to stay home and only go out for necessities like buying food or medicines or to work at factories or businesses allowed to operate, and so Yen cannot go to Nam Dinh to pick her children up.

"My children in Nam Dinh keep asking about the new school year, but I have no idea how to pick them up. Nam Dinh has also banned entry for people from places with lockdowns."

Her family is stressed out by the situation, she said.

"Even if their schools in Hanoi have online classes, we have no computers or a stable Internet connection in Nam Dinh."

Ho Thu Huong of Saigon’s District 12 said she could not buy textbooks and stationery for her 10-year-old daughter because of the ongoing lockdown.

"I ordered many times, but was canceled each time because there was no shipper delivering them to District 12 amid the lockdown," she said with a sigh.

However, the biggest concern of all for parents is how their children will safely return to schools in future when they are not vaccinated.

Nguyen Thi Kieu of HCMC’s District 3 said: "The Delta variant is more dangerous and I will never be at ease if my children go to school even when the pandemic is contained. They must be vaccinated before things go back to normal."

Vietnam has vaccinated over 17 million people, with nearly 1.8 million getting two doses, all adults.

As of Thursday 1,937 children under 16 were getting treatment for Covid in HCMC, or 5.8 percent of all patients in the city.

Students at a primary school in Hanoi wear masks in class in May 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Duong Tam

Students at a primary school in Hanoi wear masks in class in May 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Duong Tam

Hobson's choice

To keep their children safe from the virus, many parents know that online learning is the only choice regardless of its drawbacks.

But most of them are not fond of the idea of prolonged online classes.

Knowing that in Saigon students might be learning remotely until the end of the first term, Kieu and Huong cannot hide their worries.

Kieu said: "So it will be four months. Then how can they truly learn new things and pass exams? I still hope the outbreak will be contained soon or at least children are vaccinated."

She also fears that keeping her daughter at home could affect her mental health.

Huyen, realizing her children could be at home until the pandemic is contained, has bought new stationery and computers for their online classes.

"I have also connected them with their classmates so that they can talk every day and help others prepare for the school year," she said.

The school year normally starts in mid-August after three months of summer vacations. But with the Delta variant continuing to rage, many localities have decided to have students start their new academic year later than usual.

Yen said she could not think about the school year. "All I can think about is safety, and vaccination for my son."

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