While homeschooling is still foreign to most Vietnamese parents, two brothers in Ho Chi Minh City have been undergoing the educational method for years with flying colors.
The brothers, Dang Thai Anh, 14, and Dang Nhat Anh, 19, have dropped out of formal classes after finding their school curricula too stressful and the traditional schooling environment unsuitable for their development.
They are now taught at home by their father Dang Quoc Anh, a former university professor who has given up his job to be a full-time dad.
“I objected the idea at first, as I believed kids their age should be taken to school,” said the brothers’ mother Le Thi Thanh, who is also a professor at the Institute of Posts and Telecommunications in Ho Chi Minh City. “But over time I became fed up myself with the strenuous experience the boys were getting at school.”
“The last straw was when the homeroom teacher of my older son made him and nearly 20 of his classmates spend their break time in front of the headmaster’s office revising a lesson they had failed to memorize,” Thanh recalled. “I couldn’t come to terms with such punishment, for it does more harm than good to students in general.”
According to Thanh, when her older son was still in school, he would spend every night doing homework until 10:00-11:00 pm and wake up at 6:00 am the next morning to go to school.
“The curriculum was ridiculously heavy, and his teachers assigned too much homework,” Thanh said.
The parents finally decided they had had enough after Nhat Anh’s first year in high school, and allowed the boy to pick up homeschooling from then on.
As for their younger son Thai Anh, trouble came as early as in his middle school years.
“In his class, those who attended after-hours classes held by their teacher were exempted from oral tests, while those who didn’t were given as many as ten pages of homework every day,” said their father Dang Quoc Anh. “If he failed to finish it, he would be punished in class by doing squats.”
“There were even times when the teacher would give him low marks on an English exam despite his answers being correct,” Anh said.
As he has a particular passion for science, Thai Anh would often mention black holes, antimatters, and astronomy in conversations with his classmates, for which he was always labeled a ‘freak,’ the father added.
Both Thai Anh and Nhat Anh are now revising for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), an English language curriculum developed by the University of Cambridge International Examinations.
Apart from academic knowledge, the boys also excel in English, with the younger brother having earned IELTS band 8.5 at the age of 13 and the older brother scoring 8.0 on the same test in 2015.
They also take music classes where they learn to play musical instruments to develop necessary appreciation for the fine arts, their father said.
If he passes the IGCSE this month, Nhat Anh will be going abroad to continue his study, while Thai Anh has already been enrolled in an international school in Ho Chi Minh City, he said.
“Every educational method has its advantages and shortcomings that we have to accept,” Quoc Anh said. “Both Nhat Anh and Thai Anh have their flaws that we are trying our best to make up for.”
According to Dr. Nguyen Kim Dung, deputy director of the Institute for Education Research at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Education, homeschooling has yet to be formally recognized in Vietnam at the moment, though the trend has started to pick up speed among families with good educational backgrounds.
“In the hands of well-educated parents, homeschooling can be extremely beneficial as the curriculum is more personalized to the characteristics of their children,” Dung said. “In reality, however, a homeschooled child can experience social shock when they encounter people who may not be as understanding and ideal as their parents. Therefore, it is necessary that parents who wish to homeschool their children be ready to provide them with social skills as well as academic knowledge.”