Testing methods have forced middle school teachers and students in Ho Chi Minh City to grapple with two English language programs despite knowing well that one of them is so boring and rigid.
Students are now allowed to choose between the standard 7-year and extended 10-year syllabi.
Learners start studying English in grade six for the former and grade three for the latter, with Vietnam’s basic educational system consisting of grades one to twelfth.
The first scheme is a product of the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) and has been in effect for decades.
The second is peculiar to the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training (HCMC DOET).
The bottom line is whether students opt for the first or second, they have to stick to the standard one over testing methods.
The end-of-term exams for all grades designed by the Bureau of Education and Training at district levels, and the admission test to high school written by HCMC DOET both cling tightly to the standard program.
How different are they?
The extended program is based on imported textbooks and places equal concentration on the development of all four language skills, namely reading, listening, speaking and writing.
T., a middle school teacher in Ho Chi Minh City, notes these textbooks help to brace students for international tests of English, like those administered by Cambridge ESOL Examinations.
The longstanding 7-year program is heavily grammar-based and is geared toward beginners.
Therefore, those familiar with the extended program tend to find the shorter one a piece of cake, and a boring task.
“I have to use two kinds of textbooks, the foreign books and the MOET books,” N.M., a 6th grader in District 7 who is involved in the extended program, said.
“The foreign textbooks match our levels as they give us what we have not learnt. The MOET books are so dull as their content was all covered from first and second grades,” she added.
In fact, she is a pre-intermediate speaker of English with a well-earned Cambridge Flyers Certificate.
However, she is supposed to learn basic phrases like ‘Good morning,’ ‘What’s your name?’ ‘How are you?’ ‘How old are you?’ as she quoted from the MOET 6th-grade English textbook.
Not just a student’s nightmare
Teachers have found the two programs much of an unnecessary burden.
“No teacher of English enjoys doing two programs at a time,” an English teacher at a middle school in District 3 said.
“Students in the extended program actually demonstrate very fine speaking and writing skills. Forcing them to learn the old-school textbook is just a pain in the neck for both.”
Commenting on the ‘extended’ workload, a teacher in Tan Binh District said that the teacher all of a sudden has to shoulder double responsibility.
“I am assigned, for example, to teach 8th and 9th graders, but I have to devise four sets of lesson plans, two for each program. This is twice as much work as needed,” she complained.
“HCMC DOET should provide detailed guidelines on the teaching of English in middle school,” Vu Van Xuan, vice-principal of Le Quy Don Middle School in District 3, said.
“Running two programs is putting both students and teachers at the end of their tethers.”