Rape scene in school play sparks controversy

By Manh Tung   March 31, 2019 | 12:43 am PT
Rape scene in school play sparks controversy
Dat stressed that there was no physical contact between the students. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung
Pham Quoc Dat, a literature teacher, rejects charges that he used inappropriate teaching content and students support him.

Dat, a literature teacher with the Vo Truong Toan High School in Ho Chi Minh City, assigned 11th grade students to enact plays based on some works of literature last October. Some parts of these plays, however, were considered inappropriate for the 11th grade students to act, like scenes of sex and rape. As footages of these scenes were circulated, some parents expressed their disapproval.

Following the incident, school authorities this January gave Dat a 12-month warning, asked him to stop teaching and supervise the school library in January. Dat, who rejects the complaints against him, explained that each play, lasting about 12-15 minutes, had to include all details in the assigned story. However, some scenes were cut out of context and discussed online, sparking controversy.

The students crafted these scenes by standing behind a screen and projecting images on to it using lighting techniques.

Dat stressed that there was no physical contact between the students. "I stood behind the screen with them and there was no physical contact. They used techniques and objects to create the scenes."

The teacher, however, admitted that in organizing the activity, he only reviewed the script, while the acting scenes were kept secret by students.

"We have to look at these scenes from a humanistic perspective of the work of literature and the creativity of students to understand what they have learned," Dat said.

A screenshot of a play scene when the main character was raped. 

A screenshot of a play's scene when the main character was raped. 

Some students who were part of the activity confirmed that there was no physical contact during the play, and added that they supported such activities to make lessons more interesting.

School officials said more than half of school staff voted in agreement of issuing a warning to Pham Quoc Dat. The warning was given in response to the learning activity with inappropriate content and some other activities, said Luong Van Dinh, principal of the Vo Truong Toan High School. All the decisions were based on regulations, he added.

"The school specifies my wrongdoings in teaching, interaction with colleagues and on social media. I claim that I did not commit these violations," Dat said. He added that he has sued the principal and requested that all punishments are revoked.

Other teachers have also voiced their opinions saying Dat has violated school rules many times in the past too.

"I cannot believe the students could enact such sensitive scenes," Nguyen Thu Ha, a literature teacher at the school, said. "How can a teacher allow his students to [enact such scenes]? Learning literature is about learning to be human, but what would the students learn from such scenes? Where’s the creativity in that?"

The dramatization of literary works was not part of the teaching plan or approved by the literature department, the department’s head teacher, Nguyen Thi Hong Chau, said.

The head of the HCMC Department of Education’s secondary education department, who does not want to be named, said innovations are good but should not be misused, adding that the context should have been considered when judging the scene the students enacted.

"Teachers’ extracurricular activities show follow plans and need to be approved by relevant departments."

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