Vietnamese teacher among 50 finalists for $1 mil UK prize

By Minh Nga   March 20, 2020 | 06:45 pm PT
Vietnamese teacher among 50 finalists for $1 mil UK prize
Ha Anh Phuong, a teacher in Vietnam's northern province of Phu Tho. Photo provided by Phuong.
Vietnam’s Ha Anh Phuong is among the 50 finalists for the 2020 Global Teacher Prize for her contributions to education in remote areas.

From the 50 list, a prize of $1 million will be given to an "exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession," according to the Varkey Foundation, a British charitable foundation that gives the award.

Phuong, 29, teaches English at Huong Can High School in a mountainous area of Thanh Son District in Phu Tho Province in the north, where many people cannot get good education for economic and geographical reasons.

Ninety percent of students in her school are of ethnic background.

Herself a Muong, Vietnam’s third largest out of 53 minority groups, Phuong decided to become an English teacher after watching a Vietnamese documentary about how teachers had knocked on people’s doors in the remote mountainous areas to persuade them to send their children to school.

After getting a Master of TESOL at Hanoi University, she decided to return to Phu Tho and become a teacher there.

In her school in the remote, mountainous area, students have little chance to practice English with foreigners, which often leads to low language competence, shyness, poor intercultural awareness, and lack of interest.

Phuong has helped her students tackle this challenge by using online teaching models, connecting them with children in schools worldwide through Skype.

Some of her innovations have significantly improved student outcomes and are clearly seen in their national exam results. Last year all her students, who had previously been low achievers in English, passed the final exam.

Known as the "4.0 innovative teacher" in Vietnam, she has now taught students online on four continents (Africa, Europe, Asia, and America), and is an active member of a Microsoft educational community that gathers global teachers to design lessons and engage in professional development.

Last year she was awarded the Innovative and Creative Teacher prize by the Ministry of Education and Training.

Asked about making it to the final 50 for the global award, she said: "It’s a great honor for me to surpass tens of thousands of entries to make it to the final. This prize money would help offer a more positive perspective on education in Vietnam and in Phu Tho."

In a congratulatory letter to her, Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha described the award as "the Nobel prize for education."

"The nation’s education is in a process of radical and comprehensive change as well as international integration. An enthusiastic, passionate, brave, and innovative teacher who applies technology in teaching and wants to turn Vietnamese students into global citizens like Ha Anh Phuong will be a source of encouragement for students and teachers all over the country."

With the new coronavirus epidemic still raging and schools closing, Phuong’s online teaching model has special significance.

"My students say they can study and lie in bed at the same time and can cough anytime without facing discrimination," she wrote in a Facebook post about teaching students at home.

Vietnam also had one teacher in the top 50 last year, when the prize was won by Peter Tabichi, a science teacher in Kenya.

Phuong is one of five Southeast Asians among this year's finalists along with an Indonesian, a Filipino and two Malaysians.

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