Public schools across Ho Chi Minh City are getting flak from parents for early start times which affect both student health and parent work schedules.
N.V.H., the parent of a sixth grade student at Nguyen Du Middle School in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City, has long been an opponent of the early start time at his child’s school, where classes begin at 7:00 am on the dot.
“I don’t understand why the school starts classes so early and then ends the day so early, at 4:15 pm, when parents are still at work," H. said.
“My kid has to wake up at 5:45 am every day to prepare for school.”
C., another local parent, has a sixth grader and a ninth grader enrolled in Ho Chi Minh City public schools.
“My ninth grader has to be at school at 6:45 am. It’s way too early," C. said, adding that the early start times also seriously affect his child’s health.
“The school should move the time back to 7:45 am so it’s easier for parents to drop their kids off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon.
“My kid is in his final year of middle school, so he is really busy preparing for the high school entrance exam.
“Between extra classes and homework, he rarely goes to bed before midnight.
"He only gets five to six hours of sleep a night and has a hard time focusing on his lessons because he’s so sleepy."
The early-morning issue is not just a concern for parents of middle and high school students. Parents of elementary school students feel the same way.
|A man drops his daughter off at a school in Nha Be District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tu Trung / Tuoi Tre|
“My child is always scared of being late because her teacher scolds her," said L., the parent of a child at Nguyen Dinh Chinh Elementary School in Phu Nhuan District.
“There is always so much traffic in the mornings, so to get to school on time she usually has to skip breakfast at home and eat it during break time at school.”
Early elementary school start times also mean early lunch and nap times – two major sources of frustration for students who are neither tired nor hungry so soon after waking up and eating breakfast.
Beating rush hour
Truong Thi Dep, principal of Nguyen Du Middle School, explained that her school starts classes at 7:00 am so that parents can drop their children off and get to work before the morning rush hour begins.
According to Dep, students who arrive late to Nguyen Du are not allowed inside.
Other schools choose their start times based on the situation in their neighborhoods.
Nguyen Thi My Hanh, principal of Vo Truong Toan Middle School in District 1, explained that her school’s proximity to other schools was an important factor in choosing what time to start morning classes.
“Our school is on Nguyen Binh Khiem Street where four other schools are located, so we stagger our start times to prevent traffic jams," Hanh said.
“Seventh- and ninth-grade students begin their classes at 7:00 am while sixth- and eighth-grade students start at 7:45 am.”
Adjusting the school schedule
Schools across Ho Chi Minh City have been steadily pushing their start times back to 7:30 am, including Nguyen Binh Khiem Elementary School in District 1, Tran Quoc Tuan Elementary School in Tan Binh District, Tan Son Nhi Elementary School in Tan Phu District, and Nguyen Gia Thieu Middle School in Tan Binh District.
Excessive break time
“At my kid’s school, morning classes end at 10:30 am, but afternoon classes don’t begin until 1:30 pm," said N.V.H.
"That means the students have three hours for lunch.
"It would be more appropriate to start school later and reduce the break time."
It’s not okay for health
"Kids do not get enough sleep because of early morning classes. Some schools start lunch at 10:30 am, which is not good for students’ circadian rhythm.
"Lunchtime should be at 11:00 or 11:30 am. 10:30 - 11:30 am is a good time for studying and experiential activities. Starting school too early means students can’t learn effectively.
"Schools should not start before 7:30 am. These decisions should be made based on what’s best for student health, not based on when rush hour starts."
Dr. Truong Huu Khanh from the Ho Chi Minh City Children's Hospital 1
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