Teachers bear brunt of prolonged school break

By Pham Nga   February 20, 2020 | 08:14 pm PT
Teachers bear brunt of prolonged school break
Pham Phuong Hong and her students in Sung La Commune, Dong Van District, Ha Giang. Photo courtesy of Hong.
After the Lunar New Year holiday, teacher Pham Phuong Hong returned to Ha Giang from Thanh Hoa by bus, repeating the journey twice amid coronavirus fears.

After half-a-month spent at home, on February 2, Hong and her 4-year-old son traveled back to their boarding room in Sung La Commune, Dong Van District, northern Ha Giang Province to prepare for the 2nd school semester. 

A day later, she was informed students would take a week off due to the epidemic. Nevertheless, teachers were tasked with returning to clean and disinfect the school. As a single mother, she had to ask a neighbor to look after her son while she worked. 

Armed with medical supplies, Hong and her fellow teachers donned raincoats and hats to disinfect classrooms. Besides, teachers pooled funds to buy medical masks for their students' families. After school, Hong’s son begged her to return to their hometown. "At school, he has teachers and friends to keep him company. But now, with a long time off, he is sad and homesick," she explained. 

Reassuring herself school time would return to normal within a week, she convinced her son to endure. However, on the evening of February 7, she was told the break would last longer. So, Hong and her son had to wrap things up and return to their hometown once again.

"It's the beginning of the year and we have already spent VND2 million ($86) on transportation back and forth. Both my son and I get carsick, so it's very tiring," the 40-year-old lamented.

After a week in the countryside, when Hong and her son were ready to return to Ha Giang, on February 14, they received the news of even another school break. 

Due to the Covid -19 epidemic, many localities across Vietnam have allowed students an initial one-week break from February 3, though the plan remains open to extension. As of February 15, seven localities have given students one more week off until February 23 while 56 provinces extended the break to the end of February.

The Ministry of Education and Training has asked leaders of universities, institutes, colleges and pedagogical centers to consider extending the break until the end of February.

Teachers in Sung La, Dong Van, Ha Giang wear raincoats and medical masks to disinfect classrooms. Photo courtesy of Hong.

Teachers in Sung La Commune, Dong Van District, Ha Giang Province wear raincoats and medical masks to disinfect classrooms. Photo courtesy of Pham Phuong Hong.

Unlike Hong, with a fixed payroll contract, Lan Huong, a 24-year-old teacher at a special needs education center in Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi said her income will certainly decrease. To compensate, she will leave her one-year-old child with her mother and return from her hometown in Nam Dinh to the capital, where she offers private lessons and sells clothes online in her free time. 

Apart from income, Huong is concerned how her special needs students would catch up after such a long break. "Last year, they had a lot of difficulties in learning after the week-long Tet holiday. Now with a month-long break, it would be really hard to coach them back to form," she explained. 

Whether or not they are open, Nguyen Van Thanh, who runs three private kindergartens in Hanoi, has to pay a monthly rent of VND70 million ($3,020) per center, 50-70 per cent of salaries, and social security costs.

Thanh has trouble sleeping these nights, keeping his phone close for updates on the coronavirus situation. "First it was a week, then two weeks, now another half-a-month off. There are fixed operating costs that I can't avoid," he said.  

Vietnam has so far recorded 16 cases of infection, of whom 14 have been discharged from hospitals.

As of Friday morning, the global death toll had climbed to 2,247, with 11 outside mainland China, and confirmed infections reached 76,202, of whom 18,221 have recovered.

*Some subjects’ names have been changed.

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