Vietnamese students to kick off new school year like never before

By Long Nguyen   August 27, 2020 | 05:06 pm PT
Covid-19 threats and potential online tuition cause students, parents and teachers worry and uncertainty ahead of the upcoming school year.

Luong Thanh An, 13, is both excited and worried to return to his secondary school in Hanoi’s Long Bien District with the new school year one week away.

"Staying home is boring, so I want to return to school, but when I think about the coronavirus, my excitement fades," An said.

An is among 23 million Vietnamese students set to start a new school year early next month amid an unprecedented situation, including health safety and online lessons, brought about by the pandemic.

Vietnam has recorded 1,036 Covid-19 patients in total, with 637 recoveries. The country has seen 548 local transmission cases associated with Da Nang since July 25, when the nation confirmed its first community transmission in over three months.

A student at Saigons Dinh Tien Hoang Primary School. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

A HCMC student joys at returning to school in May, 2020, after a three-month Covid-19 break. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

The excitement of an upcoming school year notwithstanding, children, parents and schools are keeping a wary eye on the pandemic that enforced a three-month break last semester.

Parents with young children are even more anxious about their safety since they cannot protect themselves properly at school.

Nguyen Thi Quynh, mother of a third-grader in Hanoi, said she is uneasy thinking about letting her son sit in a classroom with more than 30 other students, worried his classmates and their families may have traveled during summer and "accidentally caught the virus."

Students share the same concern as close contact with their friends is unavoidable.

Nguyen Viet Anh, 17, of Hanoi's Nguyen Gia Thieu High School said: "If we go to school, we will talk, eat and hang out together, which is risky."

Those using public transportation to go to school are even more anxious, believing crowded buses could be hotbeds for the novel coronavirus.

Anh’s parents have prohibited him from using the bus since March, promising to buy him an electric bike "to keep the Covid-19 danger at bay".

With most schools in the country to welcome students back in the first week of September, some have prioritized a safe learning environment and a simpler opening ceremony to avoid crowds.

There will be an official opening ceremony on September 5, virtual in provinces and cities under Covid-19 semi-lockdown, according to the Ministry of Education and Training. In Hanoi, the occasion will be no longer than 45 minutes.

In Covid-19 hotspots like central Quang Nam Province and Da Nang City, authorities have considered letting students study from home and return to school later.

Schools in other provinces and cities have started disinfecting facilities and equipping themselves with thermometers and hand sanitizers. Some are looking for official guidance on what to do if a student is infected.

Teachers, worried students may forgo protective measures, were told to remind their learners to put their masks on, wash their hands and reduce going to other places apart from their homes and schools.

"To protect myself and help students to protect themselves is all I can do," said Nguyen Tra My, a math teacher at a Hanoi-based secondary school, adding she has told her students to immediately report symptoms of fever or runny noses if occurring a week before school.

A new type of classroom

With Covid-19 still around the corner, online learning is gaining popularity, especially after the Ministry of Education and Training advised schools to be proactive in organizing online classes "when children cannot go to school" in the coming semester.

In Hanoi, Marie Curie Primary and Secondary Schools have prepared two options, including traditional classes and online lessons once a Covid-19 semi-lockdown is imposed.

Hanoi-based British International School also plans for online lessons and will update parents ahead of any closure or outbreak, according to a school representative.

But both parents and teachers are skeptical and worried when it comes to the fees and effectiveness of online lessons.

The lack of interaction with students is said to be a huge problem, especially with young learners not tech-savvy and easily distracted.

A girl studying online at her home in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

A girl studying online at her home in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

For parents, tuition fees related to online learning are a popular concern, especially since few official regulations exist regarding their management.

"What is the point of paying the same fee when students will have to revise all their lessons once back at school?" asked Nguyen Ngoc Anh, whose daughter is studying at Saigon’s Gia Dinh High School.

Many schools have not mentioned the fees in case students must study online.

"We will not charge 100 percent of traditional class fees, with the detailed numbers to be discussed with parents first," said Nguyen Xuan Khang, principal of Hanoi-based Marie Curie Primary and Secondary Schools.

Schools and teachers are still waiting for official guidance from educational authorities on online teaching, which is affected by internet connectivity, living environment and parent coordination.

After the summer break, many students are confident when it comes to protecting themselves amid the pandemic, saying everyone should adapt to the new normal.

Nguyen Duc Nam, a tenth-grader at Hanoi's Chu Van An High School, affirmed he will bring along hand sanitizer and wear a mask when talking with his friends at school.

"I miss my friends and I think we have to adapt to life amid the pandemic," he added.

Parents have helped their children protect themselves at school by preparing more masks, hand sanitizer and dozens of reminders telling them to be on their guard.

"I hope we will have a normal school year, last semester was such an ordeal," An said while buying stationary with his mother at a store on Hanoi's Ly Thuong Kiet Street, adding he misses the sound of the school drum.

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