7020 bilingual Teaching Assistants have been recruited from isolated and rural communes to support more than 100,000 ethnic minority students in Vietnam. They can be found in 32 provinces from the far north of the country bordering on China to the very South , bordering on Cambodia. Teaching Assistants are a PEDC project intervention and are proving, through external evaluation, to provide exceptional results !
This intervention is not the only one from the Primary Education for Disadvantaged Children project, but is part of a package of interventions to support the improvement of learning achievements, particularly for children from different ethnic groups.
Lets start with the problem before moving to solutions.
There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. The language of instruction, from day 1 in Grade 1 is Vietnamese.
But for the 53 ethnic groups other than Kinh (Viet), making up 14% of the population, Vietnamese is not their mother tongue. Some students will live in heterogeneous communities and will be exposed to plenty of Vietnamese language at the markets, in the media and are able to cope when they arrive at school. Other students who may live mainly in 100% single ethnic minority communities, and taught by a Kinh teacher, will have serious problems accessing school and the curriculum.
As you can imagine many of these students start to attend less regularly, do not make much progress, fail their grades, have to repeat and finally give up and drop out. Repetition can put serious financial burdens on families. Added to these obvious difficulties many of the students are needed at home to look after younger siblings while the parents do their farming, or they will look after the buffaloes, or just live so far from the school that getting to school is a hazardous journey (crossing streams during flood season for example). When the teacher cannot speak the language of the students and their parents then the school cannot persuade the students to come to school as the parents rarely understand the benefits of education, particularly as many may be illiterate (in Vietnamese).
One solution to these pressing issues, which are common in many countries, is to recruit bilingual teaching assistants. They have two main roles. The first is to work with families so that they have confidence that the school can provide benefits for the children, the family and the community, as Teaching Assistants often have responsibilities within the commune such as youth leader, chair of women’s committee or even village leader.
This role means that they visit families, often collect students and walk with them to school (sometimes even carrying them on their backs across streams/rivers) and ensure that they arrive home safely after school. They even have help students with their learning at home so that parents understand a little more about what happens at school.
12 students are ‘collected’ and walk to school….
…. and that is 12 students who arrive home safely!
Parents are happier to enrol their children and send them to school regularly as they know they will be safe and that they have someone to talk to in their own language about the education of their children.
The second role is to support students when they get to school.
Teaching Assistants are one solution to supporting ethnic minority students to access school,improve attendance and achieve. This intervention of providing bilingual Teaching Assistants will help the Government of Vietnam achieve Education for All targets as well as Millenium Development Goals.