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Expat families make the best of historic situation during school closures in Vietnam

Wednesday, April 08, 2020, 13:39 GMT+7
Expat families make the best of historic situation during school closures in Vietnam
A family play in a park in Ho Chi Minh City in this file photo. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Editor's note: Ryan Patey is a Canadian citizen currently living in Vietnam. He sent this piece to Tuoi Tre News as the country has entered the third month of school closures due to novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). He interviewed some foreign parents who are raising their children in Vietnam to see how they are adapting to the unparalleled situation.

According to UNESCO, the current COVID-19 pandemic has led to school closures in over 180 countries, and it has affected over 1.5 billion learners around the world.

Here in Vietnam – one of the earlier countries to adopt school closures – students, teachers, parents, and others involved in the education field have had to adapt to new routines since February.

With schools remaining closed until at least the middle of this month, the initial excitement of kids over an extended holiday has changed to missing friends while parents continue to juggle schedules with care-taking arrangements.

For David Dredge, a South African father who lives in Ho Chi Minh City with his wife and young daughter, the hardest part has been trying to explain to his daughter why she cannot see her friends or go outside to play.

"My daughter is very social. She misses her friends and going to school. She’s generally very active, but these days we can’t even go to the park," he explained.

"She likes to interact with people and we have had to discourage this due to the virus. It’s difficult for her to do as she doesn’t fully understand the risk."

Thankfully, the family is lucky and they have been able to rearrange their schedule to ensure their daughter’s education continues while they also earn an income from teaching classes and tutoring.

"My wife teaches her classes online. I look after our daughter and tutor online at night," said Dredge.

"The school provides materials, which I need to teach or go through with her. Most of the mornings are taken up with her studies."

Despite new restrictions limiting their ability to go outside with their daughter, Dredge and his wife believe that they are among the lucky ones as they are still able to earn an income while ensuring their daughter continues her education.

With the total number of confirmed cases reaching 251 and still climbing slowly in Vietnam, no one is sure when schools will reopen or when other restrictions will be lifted to allow families to be active outside, but the majority are understanding why the measures are important.

For one family from North America and Asia who have been living in Ho Chi Minh City for over 20 years, it was hard to understand why the schools closed at first since the concept of social distancing was not well explained.

Thankfully, their 16-year old son’s school switched over to e-learning quickly, and they have all been able to adapt to the new situation.

"We have been fully supportive of what the Vietnamese government has done and continues to do to protect the people of Vietnam," says the father.

"This is a challenging time for everyone, especially people with younger kids."

With the WHO reporting over 1.3 million cases of COVID-19 around the world, and those numbers continuing to climb along with the total deaths, the efforts of families to adapt to the challenges they face play a big part in not only Vietnam but also the world overcoming this pandemic.

When asked what her family will do if things go on longer than they are currently scheduled to, a mother of two from the UK simply said that they would do what needed to be done to control the spread of the disease.

With both her husband and her working as teachers, the current situation has meant more work for both of them, but she still feels that her children are getting a quality education.

Richard Burrage, a father of three who is originally from the UK, agrees when it comes to the quality of education, but he knows that online classes cannot compare to going to school each day.

"They miss graduation. They miss that ‘we made it’ feeling. They miss the camaraderie," he says.

"My eldest turned 18 last week, and we had a virtual party on Zoom with extended family back home. Her aunt and cousin made a cake in England and she blew the candles out [virtually] here. She loved it, the extended family loved it, and we are now planning more 'events' to get together," Burrage added.

"It’s not how it should be, but it is reality, and they are all grounded enough to get on with life as it is.”

Around the world, millions of families are doing just that as they adapt and make the best of an unparalleled situation.

Without a doubt, it can be hard at times, both for the children and the parents, but everyone is looking forward to when the pandemic ends and the whole thing becomes a chapter in every school's history books.

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Ryan Patey / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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