Yesterday I went to Teach for Vietnam Career Fair. I did not plan to become of one the fellows. Natural curiosity brought me there to learn its model and the difference the program brings to Vietnam.
1. What is Teach for Vietnam (TFV)?
Phuc Huynh (CEO & Founder) was inspired by Teach for America. A frontier in Teach for all network brings quality education to disadvantaged communities. It offers fellowship program to train and pay graduates to teach in rural area.
Fellows have six-week training then head to Tay Ninh to carry responsibilities of full-time English or STEM teacher. The program aims at raising teaching standards and creating a momentum to encourage students to learn and find the joy of learning thanks to its student-centered teaching method. It aims at narrowing the educational gap and provide every student with quality education by 2050.
2. What exciting about the project?
First, it tackles education. Education and health are key for sustainable growth. I believe. Without healthy and educated citizen who can bring the country forward.
Second, it solves problems from both directions: bottom - up and top - down.
+ At student level, kids receive lesson from young and bright fellows who graduate from renowned universities. English and STEM, subjects of future, are taught within TFV scheme. The program also encourages students to apply their knowledge though projects like Little Farmer or sending students to Singapore for STEM competition.
+ At government level, TFV persuades local governments so it can teach at public school DURING SCHOOL TIME. Allowing outsiders to teach in public schools as full-time teachers for two-year is unprecedented in Vietnam. I must give my greatest appreciation to Phuc's determination. Running place to place to persuade this must requires lots of brain cells and sweats. Phuc and team hope to set examples and create a momentum for local government to pay more attention to education and pressure local teachers to change and improve.
Finally, it creates challenges for young graduates. From what I observe, millennials have become pretty ignorant. TFV is the great chance for them to travel their eyes to the unseen. Challenge them to core. Force them to grow.
3. What's the fuss?
I have all the respect to Phuc and his team. The deed is good. They have such compassionate hearts and the heat warmed me inside. However, there are still some points for consideration.
+ Six-week training for fellows might not be enough . They will face tremendous difficulties in disadvantaged area with brand-new role. My friend, who was a fellow and quit the program, said she received little support from back office. She felt like being left alone in a dessert. So, TFV should: (i) improve its support systems for its fellows; and (ii) retrain its fellows when needed. After all, execution is key no matter how exceptional your theory is.
+ Be alert to the teaching quality. I believe fellows can deliver exceptional job in teaching English at secondary level. Yet, teaching STEM is another story. Let alone it is not major of some fellows. Given 70,000 teachers will go surplus in 2020 should we empower existing STEM teachers instead. Should fellows cooperate with them instead of replace them for two year?
+ What's next? After two-year, what awaits these students? Phuc and his team answered that the kids will improve and continue to thrive. Unfavorable externality still awaits. Back to their previous teachers. Who continue to embark the vision of 100% student have access to quality education by 2050? Is it just a rhetorical device?
What next to TFV's fellows? Unlike the UK's Teach First Program or Teach for American. Fellows can not become a certified teachers afterward. TFV does not give fellow broader career choice. It might be a loss to the system when talented potentially-great-teachers can not teach.
I should stop my string of "what if" to remind myself the story of starfish. It goes like this:
"A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved."