While the ongoing novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is taking a hard hit on private schools and colleges among other businesses in Vietnam, many school teachers in the Mekong Delta region are trying to turn the crisis into opportunities spending time with their loved ones, honing professional skills, and engaging in part-time jobs and personal pursuits.
This year’s Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday, which wrapped up in late January, has extended into an unprecedentedly long school break after the administrations of all provinces and cities across the country announced schools would remain closed until further notice to curb the COVID-19 transmission.
The school close-down began on February 3 and has now been extended to at least April 15.
With weeks off work having prolonged into months, many school teachers and college lecturers at private education facilities in Ho Chi Minh City have grown impatient, as the impact has been dire due to salary cuts and canceled classes, though they have been offering online classes in lieu of face-to-face meetings.
Despite being similarly affected, their colleagues in the Mekong Delta seem to be seeing opportunities out of the devastating prolonged shutdown.
As most of the teaching staff in urban localities have felt the pinch with pay drops and tried to cut down on day-to-day expenses, those in rural areas now find themselves engaging in farming, family business, and household appliance repair work among other temporary jobs to offset the sudden disruption to their incomes and keep the light on in tough times.
Making the most
Nguyen Xuan Thieu, an elementary school teacher from Duc Hue District in Long An Province, approximately 50 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, is among those who have recently picked up farm work to try to get the day-to-day expenses paid while relieving themselves of physical and mental inertia.
Nestled in a remote area, his school was not spared by the shutdown order though and the teacher has already felt the impact from the months-long school closure.
Thieu has spent the past two months improving his professional skills and preparing lessons for the comeback, which is nowhere in sight, while somehow keeping an eye on his students’ schoolwork and helping weaker ones catch up with their peers.
Getting academically ready is not enough, though. The man has recently turned to growing rice, fruit trees, and other crops on his family’s piece of land and tending to livestock – tasks which he had otherwise overlooked over his hectic teaching schedule.
“I’ve never imagined myself in such a situation. My students should have been doing mid-term tests in class by now. I really miss them and my teaching job,” Thieu shared, adding he found physical labor not too bad in supplementing his income and keeping him in good shape and high spirits.
For more than one month now, N.N.T., a senior high school teacher in nearby Dong Thap Province, has her plates full taking care of her family’s asparagus farm, harvesting and delivering the homegrown produce to clients.
Her adjusted routines which start in small hours range from plowing the soil, applying fertilizers, operating the automatic watering system, hand-picking and packaging the vegetables, and delivering them to clients’ homes in districts nearby.
“My farm, which yields more than 1.5-2 kilograms each day, keeps me busy and earns me some extra cash in the face of the prolonged school shutdown,” T. said.
Many of the colleagues at her school have also found alternative sources of income right from their own gardens – growing greens, ornamental plants, and raising fish.
T.T.H., from the province’s Thap Muoi District, revealed he had sown seeds which will soon grow into nearly 1,000 jackfruit trees.
“Normally I have time for gardening on weekends only. Now I can indulge in the pursuit for as long as I want and spend more time with my loved ones,” H. said, adding the trend has particularly prevailed in the midst of the pandemic though not many teachers in the countryside are alien to farming as a source of additional income.
“The global COVID-19 crisis has turned things upside down for us teachers, but we are doing fine if we know how to make the most of our extended break while waiting for the situation to pick up,” the teacher remarked.
A number of school teachers have turned to offering local specialties including honey and homegrown fruits online as a way to navigate through the extended uncertainty and seek higher prices for their family’s crops.
“I’m hawking mangos from my parents’ orchard on social media after they got rejected by traders. It’s a good way to idle time away and get my parents out of the difficult time,” said Nguyen Thi Tuyet Nhung, a teacher from Cao Lanh District.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Mac Tu Khoa, from a middle school in the province’s Thanh Binh District, has put his electromechanical knowledge into practice by fixing household appliances and machinery from his neighbors, friends, and colleagues.
“I don’t earn much from the job, but it keeps my mind occupied. I also have more time for my family,” he said.
Going online, gaining expertise
According to Nguyen Minh Nhut, principal of an elementary school in Dong Thap, the outbreak has just come to put face-to-face class sessions on hold, with other activities, including class sanitization and fumigation as well as regular staff briefings and workshops, running as usual at his establishment.
“Our teachers hand out assignments to their students on a weekly basis and they themselves do homework on the first-grade textbook series,” Nhut said.
Many kindergarten teachers in Sa Dec City have made full use of their ‘extended holiday’ learning from computerized preschool training programs and building games and teaching aids.
Nguyen Thi Mai Thuy revealed some of her colleagues are selling stuff online as a temporary job to offset cut allowances and will quit altogether when classes resume, as kindergarten teachers are not allowed to use cellphones during working hours.
“I try to refrain from such ‘unseasonal’ jobs and focus on improving my child care and education skills instead,” Thuy elaborated.
Some teachers even take one step further and would not let any of their own or their students’ time go to waste by moving their classes online.
Le Trung Nghia, a senior high school teacher in Lap Vo District, also in Dong Thap, has been running online classes for the past two months to minimize disruption to the students’ learning and systemize his lessons while bracing for hard days ahead.
Vietnam has confirmed 240 cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday morning, including 193 Vietnamese and 47 foreigners, according to data collected by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Ninety have fully recovered from the disease.
No fatality associated with COVID-19 has been recorded in Vietnam to date.