Running out of options, HCMC kindergartens beg for help

By Staff reporters   October 22, 2021 | 07:00 pm PT
Running out of options, HCMC kindergartens beg for help
Teacher Nguyen Phuong Binh feeds his students lunch at a kindergarten in HCMC's District 5, November 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Around 200 kindergartens and other preschool education facilities in HCMC are running out of resources after hibernating for months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lam Boi Linh, a member of the management board of Kid’s Club kindergarten group, was speechless upon seeing a notice from her landlord raising the rent as Ho Chi Minh City begins to open up. She knew she could not ask for another extension, but her options had run out.

Her Kid’s Club has around 12 facilities with over 300 teachers. Since last year, the schools have only been able to operate for 10 months. While no money came in, rent had to be paid.

While some landlords have been willing to support the schools with some costs, a monthly fee of around VND100-200 million ($4,404-8,808) is more than enough to bring down any non-functional preschool education business.

Linh also has to pay her employees. To keep things afloat, teachers were paid a minimum salary, but that only lasted two months. Afterwards, they had to rely on government support, though all they got was a one-time support package of VND1.8 million.

To help staff, Linh tried to help them get side jobs as cashiers and shippers. Many were already fully vaccinated, so getting another job wasn’t too much of a problem. But not everyone fancies the idea.

As teachers continue to struggle financially, Linh’s schools would find it increasingly more difficult to retain employees. Just a 10 percent decrease of personnel is enough to cripple the school system once reopened.

Linh is also worried about parents deciding to let their children be taken care of elsewhere due to financial difficulties. As a well-reputed kindergarten, fees often hover around VND6-10 million a month, but many parents have said they no longer have the means to let their children stay post-Covid.

While understanding that reopening schools at this moment could be risky, Linh said she wished there would be more support for businesses and workers during these trying times, for example via loans with no or little interest.

Linh is hardly alone with her troubles. Nguyen Minh Tuan, who opened a kindergarten in Binh Thanh District in March last year, said the school’s opening coincided with the appearance of a coronavirus wave, forcing him to delay procedures by three months.

"Since the opening, my school has only operated for eight months. We spent more time closed down than actually teaching children," he said.

Tuan’s school has around five classrooms and over 20 employees taking care of 70 children. He has to pay over VND75 million every month in rent, payrolls and other costs.

Like Linh, Tuan tried to help his employees for the first few months, but resources eventually ran out. Many teachers have already returned to their hometowns or switched jobs. Tuan wants to keep them, despite knowing he has no means to keep them.

To keep things afloat, Tuan has requested his landlord to reduce the rent, and worked side jobs in marketing and counseling to keep his school.

But he deems himself lucky, having seen many friends and colleagues sell everything they own to pay off debt.

According to the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training, at least 151 kindergartens and other preschool educational facilities have dissolved due to impacts of Covid-19. Around 12,300 teachers in the city have lost their job, 82 percent of whom work for kindergartens.

Earlier this month, Linh, Tuan and several other representatives from around 90 kindergartens informed authorities of their situation.

"The HCMC education department wants students to return by next January... and to build a vaccination plan for children aged 12-17. But there has been no such plan for children aged 5 and under," stated a document submitted by kindergarten representatives.

Tuan said while he and many of his colleagues could hold out for a little longer, they need a concrete goal or plan to anticipate whether they would need to take out further loans or whether to keep their schools.

Kindergartens are also asking to be allowed to reopen. As Ho Chi Minh City begins to open up, parents would need to go to work and are in need of child care. Long periods of inactivity will also force schools to be dissolved and teachers to be unemployed.

"Preschool education is but a small cogwheel of the whole system, but we hope not to be forgotten when it comes to policymaking," the group said.

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