Home-bound senior students on pins and needles before national exam

By Long Nguyen   April 16, 2020 | 06:17 pm PT
Senior students are preparing for the coming national exam online as the global pandemic keeps schools shut. 

Every evening, Nguyen Minh Quang, 18, finishes his dinner before 8 p.m. and sits at his desks until midnight. On Monday and Thursday, he has an online English lesson at 7 p.m.

In the last two months, studying online is no longer unusual to Quang and his friends in Hanoi as all schools have resorted to online classes amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"This is often exhausting, but I have to hold on for the next few months until the national high school exam," Quang said, adding he is not good at English and Literature, making him spend more time on self-study.

Students in Hanoi attend the exam in 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Hanoi students confer during the 2019 exam. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

For around 900,000 high school seniors in Vietnam, the nation exams not only fetche them a high school diploma but also decide admissions to universities and colleges.

In Vietnam, national high school exams are a seminal event deciding whether or not one will make it in life. The majority of people think the exam will create a better future for their children if they score good results. For those from the countryside, taking the exam is a ticket to changing their lives.

Recently, university gates have opened to more students as the number of education institutions grow.  However, the race is intense for top-tier schools such as Hanoi Medical University, University of Pharmacy or Foreign Trade University, etc.

Students graduating from these schools often access better jobs with good incomes. Last year, some engineering and economic courses admitted one candidate in five, while medicine equivalents took one in 22.

Originally scheduled for July, the exam now faces postponement due to the outbreak. Last week, the Ministry of Education and Training maintained if students returned to school before June 15, the national high school exam would be delayed until August.

Since the Lunar New Year break in January, Nguyen Huong Quynh from Saigon's Binh Tan District has been under pressure to catch up with her classmates since all of them have to learn online.

"We were warned we would fall behind if we didn’t try hard, but staying at home all day and having no mockup test leave us confused," Quynh lamented. She stays up late, sometimes until 1 a.m. to study and discuss work with her classmates.

Possible deferral of the exam has given students mixed feelings. Some think the late exam will allow them more time to prepare, while others are afraid of increased stress and anxiety.

"If they delay it until August, I will have more reason to worry - another month of studying for hours per day," said Nguyen Minh Anh, a 12th-grade student at Hanoi-Amsterdam High School. Hoping to become a doctor, she watches online lessons in maths, chemistry and biology online each day.

Before 2015, students had to take a six-subject exam for graduation, and around a month later, a SAT-like placement exam for college. However, these back-to-back exams were criticized for being costly exercises that exerted too much pressure on students and their parents. From 2015, the education ministry has combined both into one national high school graduation exam.

As many universities organize their own entrance exams, and students can apply after learning their test results, the national high school exam has posted less pressure on high schoolers. 

"Students have more choices and time to study this year, but if they want to go for top schools, competing with other excellent students is never easy," said Nguyen Tra My, a chemistry teacher in Hanoi's Long Bien District. She organizes online lessons for senior high schoolers and teaches only three students at a time "to make sure they all get the chance to prepare for the coming exam."

Wifi dream

Parents share the tension and expectations of their children before the exam, especially when remote studying during Covid-19 poses questions about effectiveness.

Minh Ngoc, Anh's mother, worries her daughter would fall behind in "the battle to become a doctor" as there will be a lot of excellent candidates.

"I want her to know she has to try 200 percent while studying online because it is less effective. We had tutors for maths, chemistry and biology but now they cannot come because the pandemic keeps dragging on, so we depend entirely on the internet," Ngoc said.

ngocthanh 11.3

Hanoi-Amsterdam High School, one of the top institutions in Hanoi, has been closed due to Covid-19. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

According to Phan The Hoai, teacher at Binh Hung Hoa Highschool in Ho Chi Minh City, online teaching reduces the efficiency of students due to the lack of interaction and testing systems.

"Some students do not have good conditions and devices, interrupting their lessons. When the schools open, teachers will have to re-teach lessons from the beginning of this term," Hoai maintained.

Other parents are concerned about their children's' mental and physical health after sitting in front of a screen for long periods of time.

Le Thanh Loan in Saigon's District 3 tells her son to stand up and walk around the room every one hour whenever he starts his online lessons, "but he never remembers and keeps sitting at his table for up to five hours."

"It has been two months, I do not know how kids in this generation will become after this exam if they stay at home every day and just look to the computer for their education."

A teacher like My understands the pressure put on her students, after each online lesson, she spends 15 minutes talking with learners to comfort and encourage them.

Around 900,000 students remain uncertain about the future since local authorities have yet to decide when it would be safe for them to return to school.

In the meantime, Quang knows he has no choice but to stick to his online lessons and spend more time to review, "no matter how tiring it is."

"I started worrying about my future - I feel like I am not a kid anymore... The exam will open or close several doors, and a good Wifi connection is now one of the keys."

go to top