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History – the best-loved subject in Vietnam schools

Saturday, July 04, 2015, 14:34 GMT+7
History – the best-loved subject in Vietnam schools

Editor’s noteLe Duc Bao, hailing from the resort city of Nha Trang, hopes that history will be the favorite of Vietnamese students in the next two decades in this entry sent to the “Ky Vong Viet Nam 20 Nam Toi” (“My Expectations for Vietnam in 20 Years”) writing contest.

I expect local youths will have adequate awareness of Vietnam’s history in the next 20 years, and history will become the most popular subject at school.

While the number of students who choose history as one of the subjects they take at the national high school examination is only 15 percent (the lowest among eight available subjects) in 2015, the figure will be 100 percent in 2035.

This will really be an impressive figure for those who work in education in general, and those who teach history in particular. Then, the fifth consecutive edition of the contest “I Love Vietnamese History” will be broadcast live and be warmly welcomed by students countrywide.

And the worthy prize for the winner will make him the “ambassador of culture and tourism,” who will represent Vietnam to promote the culture, civilization, and tourism of a country with 4,000 years of history. This will be a huge honor for the winner.

In order to achieve these successes, the following measures should be seriously taken in the next 20 years:

First, embed reality in history. Do not turn historical events into boring figures. Turn them into lively “objects” closely related to reality.

This means that instead of the traditional history teaching methods in which teachers read and students take notes, take the students to historical places.

With this “seeing is believing” approach, students will quickly obtain the knowledge and remember the lessons longer, as they can see things in real life while listening to instructions from teachers.

Some schools have employed this approach but they are still concerned about the costs to organize such trips. This requires cooperation between the schools and students’ families.

Even more, families, businesses, schools and relevant agencies can also join hands to organize history-studying trips at reasonable costs that can satisfy all parties involved. These parties must not forget that what they are doing is for long-term educational purposes.

Second, do not impose ideas on others. The history of a nation is something that cannot be changed. Certainly, the current generation must, if not forced to, accept what happened in the past. But that does not mean one can impose their ideas on others. Learners must be allowed to express their own view about historical issues, or those happening at the time.

For instance, a student may say that the “closed door” policy, which was enforced during the rule of King Minh Mang and lasted through the reign of King Thieu Tri and was then fortified by King Tu Duc, is one of the two biggest mistakes of the Nguyen Dynasty that resulted in Vietnam being invaded by the French colonial empire.

But from a different point of view, the “closed door” policy was also a reasonable “preventive method” of the Nguyen Dynasty toward the challenge of the West, especially from the French, even though France invaded Vietnam in 1858.

From the viewpoint of the first student, the teacher can explore the issue further so that the whole class can analyze it, instead of asserting that the policy is completely wrong, which means that the teacher fails to solve a new problem arising during the class session.

Third, try to learn history actively. Vietnamese history is a giant photo with many different shades of color, each of which has roots in the localities where students are born and now live and study.

These are the closest and easiest things to find in life, and will be useful sources of information for students to access.

In recent years, the departments of education and training in many provinces and cities in Vietnam have instructed schools to add “local history” sessions to their curriculum, but unfortunately, these lessons will only force students to learn and memorize things they have no interest in.

This accidentally results in counter-effects and widens the gap between students and the history subject. I suggest education departments redesign these local history lessons, so that their content focuses on the historical events of a specific locality (such as a commune, district or city), rather than the whole province, which will lead to a lack of focus and practicability.

Finally, bring historical stories to stage (role play). Turn history into literary forms, such as poetry, that are familiar to members of the public. Vietnamese people used to sing folk songs when they were working in the paddy fields or fishing on the seas to forget their tiredness, according to the Dai Nam Quoc Su Dien Ca [Poetic National History of Dai Nam] by historian Le Ngo Cat, who lived under the rule of King Tu Duc.

If a suitable form of performance is chosen, both the performers and the audiences will easily obtain the historical knowledge.

On the other hand, modern means of audiovisual communications are dominating the entertainment of the Vietnamese youth. Does this mean that if we refuse to change the way history is taught, we will be obsolete in our time?

Let us create conditions for students to be in charge of scriptwriting, directing and performing these historical plays. In other words, students must be allowed to be freely creative in performing the historical stories, with the consultancy of teachers. The teachers will correct details that are inaccurate or incorrect so that the plays will be original while historically true.

These role plays at school can even give students the skill of making historical films in the future. The Vietnamese industry of making historical films has for too long been reliant on Chinese movies.

“Ky Vong Viet Nam 20 Nam Toi” is a competition organized by the World Bank in Vietnam and Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that encourages local youths to write down their wildest, yet feasible, dreams about how Vietnam will change in 20 years’ time.

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