First high school class opens on far-flung Ho Chi Minh City island

By Nhung Nguyen, Hong Nhuy   August 17, 2016 | 10:33 am GMT+7

Students no longer have to commute to the mainland if they want to complete high school.

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Thanh An Island is a remote commune in Can Gio District, Ho Chi Minh City. It takes at least 45 minutes to get there across the sea by boat. This place looks nothing like other parts of Vietnam's economic hub which is booming with local start-ups and foreign investment. This small offshore island doesn't even have a high school.

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Thanh An Elementary School has 330 students. On the first day of the school year, teachers had to take a roll call in case any of the students had chosen to skip school.

“Some parents are too busy with their jobs at sea, they just forget to bring their kids back to school,” School Principal Dang Thai Binh said. “Others have no one to take care of their children as they work in industrial zones on the mainland. They just take their kids with them for the whole summer and don’t bring them back. We have to go to these students’ houses to remind them that the school year has started.”

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A teacher checking attendance on the first day of school.

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Principal Thai Binh went to each class to ask if any of his students was absent.

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English was only introduced to the students four years ago.

“One of my proudest achievements as a principal is that I managed to bring English to our classes. It’s hard to find an English teacher to come here and help us. The first English teacher arrived here in 2012 and the second in 2014,” said Thai Binh.

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“I have worked here for almost 10 years. I hope my students somehow get a chance to learn English with native speakers. The kids are just excited about the language,” Thai Binh added.

The island only has an elementary and a secondary school for local children. It means 9th graders, or secondary school seniors, here have had to choose to either to quit high school or continue their studies by living away from their families in a dormitory at Can Thanh High School on the mainland. 

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That's all changed now a high school junior class of 28 students has opened at the secondary school. Teachers from Can Thanh High School travel to Thanh An every day to teach the class. 

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Math teacher Nguyen Dien Tin has been sent from Can Thanh to start working on the island.

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“I will have to go to work earlier and go home later, but it is actually good for my students,” said Tin “Before, I have seen many students from Thanh An Island quit high school, at least four to five students every year. The reasons were mostly that they could not keep traveling to the mainland to study, or their parents were too poor to support them living away from home.”

Officials statistics show that 60 percent of households on the island are below the poverty line.

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Bui Nguyen Hoai Son, one of the first 10th graders studying on Thanh An Island

“My elder sister had to live away from our family in a dorm in her high school year,” one of the first 10th graders studying on the island, Bui Nguyen Hoai Son, said. “I remember my mom had to cook meals for her every day, then packed them and sent them by boat to the mainland. Now she doesn’t have to do that as I can study on our island. In the future, I want to become a history teacher, I just love that subject."

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A new, bigger school is under construction for both secondary and high school students on Thanh An Island for next year. But starting from this year already, no high school students from the island have to quit their studies due to travel distance.

Photos by Hong Nhuy

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