Many children are excluded from the new school year excitement

September 18, 2023 | 04:04 pm PT
Le Tuyet Journalist
As a caring mother of two, Thuyen felt worried and anxious. It was the first day of the new school year, and her children would not be attending.

Four years ago, Thuyen and her husband left her hometown in Bac Lieu in the Mekong Delta and moved their children to the city of Binh Duong, which is a neighboring gateway to Ho Chi Minh City and as such is also one of the south’s major commercial hubs.

But when the family arrived and both husband and wife started new jobs, the school year had already begun two months earlier, and no local schools were accepting new students. Thuyen promised the children that they would have a chance to go to school next year.

Throughout the year, every day before work, Thuyen would prepare the food for the children, and the children would take the meal and entertain themselves in the family's 10 square-meter room. Thuyen locked the front doors and asked the housing manager to drop by once in a while to check on the children.

Then Covid-19 happened. Struggling through the pandemic, Thuyen and her husband told themselves that surviving was the top priority. They had to make ends meet first, which further delayed the children's education. As the pandemic subsided, there was no excuse anymore. They needed to find a school for the children.

This year, over the last several months, Thuyen tried to enroll the children in a variety of local public schools, but all in vain. The family could not afford schools that were further away – they did not have the time and money for the commute or to arrange other transportation.

They calculated that if the children went to a school in another area, the couple would have to pay VND5 million more (US$205) for transportation and to pay teachers to stay behind and supervise the children after school until they could be picked up later. The cost was simply too much for their combined salary of VND10 million ($415).

Thuyen and her husband also had no family to send the kids too as all four of their grandparents had already died.

Thuyen's is not the only unfortunate family suffering in the situation, unable to send their children to school. At the lodging house where Thuyen's family resides, there have been times when over 200 children under 15 years of age have had to stay home without being able to go to school. The children wander around the small complex of rooms, lingering around until they reach 16 years old and can illegally join the workforce at factories that pay a pittance without contracts or insurance.

There are myriad reasons why blue-collar children cannot go to school.

One primary cause is the lack of sufficient public schools in industrial neighborhoods where blue-collar workers reside. Upon designing the industrial zones, employers and policymakers naively forget about the families of the workers, leaving the employees to fend for themselves. There's simply not enough room at the local schools that were not designed for the influx of migrant worker families. So enrollment goes to families that have already been living in the local area first.

According to a Ministry of Education development report on southeast Vietnam between 2011-2022, the immense migration of workers to metropolitan and industrial areas has created a palpable pressure on the education system. The ratio of students per class and per school in the region was the highest nationwide. Specifically, for middle school students, the ratio is double the national average.

Thuyen called me last week, asking if I knew any charity classes near her home. She was no longer even hoping that her children could find academic success to change their lives. She just wanted them to at least become literate.

"If they become factory workers, they should at least be able to write their job application," she said.

She's still seeking the "last resort" for her children.

In many cities and localities with high concentrations of industrial zones, these charity classes are the only way children of poor immigrant families receive some level of education. The classes are provided free of charge at the factory workers' lodging areas.

According to current education regulations, the local people's committee can organize such charity classes if they receive the assistance of a local public school. The public school would then be in charge of managing the curriculum, assessing the teachers, and providing student assessments, so that students participating in the charity classes may have a chance to continue their education in the public school system later on.

I think this solution, although not ideal, is suitable for current Vietnamese society. The most crucial step is to simplify the bureaucracy within the local school and administration system to assist and encourage more localities to provide more charity classes for poor children. The local authority should also survey the actual needs of the local neighborhoods to provide accordingly.

In the long run, industrial zones should have allocated zones for schools for workers' children to ensure a balance between economic interests and long-term social welfare.

We should strive for a society where blue-collar workers like Thuyen do not have to beat themselves up for not being able to provide adequate education for their children.

"Even when my parents passed away early, I managed to stay in school until third grade," Thuyen said.

"Nowadays, my children still have me alive, so how can I let them be illiterate?"

*Le Tuyet is a journalist who has been covering labor, employment and social security for over a decade.

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