Mong children learn lessons in mother tongue
  • | VNS | May 24, 2011 03:54 PM

Mong pupils in their first and second years at Lao Chai Primary School in Sa Pa used to struggle in school because lessons were conducted in Vietnamese – local children\'s second language which most can barely speak.

Students at Lao Chai Primary School in northern Lao Cai Province\'s Sa Pa District study pictures in a lesson on nature.

That has all changed thanks to the school\'s decision to adopt a mother tongue-based bi-lingual education programme two school-years ago."I like to go to school and want to become a teacher in the future," Lo Thi Su, who started school just eight months ago said.

Su, who teacher Ly Thi Hoa said was her best student, has to get up early in the morning to walk to school, unaccompanied by her parents, as do most of her peers. The journey usually takes about an hour.

Despite the long and difficult trek to school, few ever missed a lesson, Hoa said.

Hoa, who has been a teacher for 15 years, said children much prefer being taught in their mother tongue.

She added that not only did children grasp information better but they were also more open with their teacher.

"They are not so hesitant to ask questions or share with me their problems as the children I used to teach using Vietnamese as the language of instruction."

Lo A Giang, Su\'s fatherù, said in hesitant Vietnamese that he was glad his child could read and write in Mong, while he and his wife were far from fluent in their own language.

"Now that our child is taught Mong, she can teach us to read and write in our language as well," Giang said.

All the pupils at Lao Chai School are ethnically Mong. It has become so popular with pupils that parents from other communes are now enrolling their children.

The school, which receives support from the Government\'s Poverty Alleviation Programme, takes in many disadvantaged children from Lao Chai Commune.

Three primary schools in Lao Cai Province – as well as schools in the provinces of Tra Vinh, Gia Lai where Khmer and Jrai are spoken – are taking part in the bi-lingual education programme run by the Ministry of Education and Training, with support of the United Nations Children\'s Fund (UNICEF).

Children are taught in their mother tongue in grade one and two. They also learn Vietnamese. From grade three to grade five, Vietnamese is introduced by teachers alongside the children\'s ethnic language. After grade five, children are taught mainly in Vietnamese.

According to a UNICEF report, the programme, which was introduced in 2008, has been largely successful, with children outperforming their ethnic peers in other classes in the same school.

During the 2009-10 school year, 68 per cent of students taught in their mother tongue passed with excellence, as compared to just 28 per cent of those taught only in Vietnamese.

No students taught in their native tongue failed mathematics during the same period, compared to 10 per cent of those taught in Vietnamese who did not pass.

Tran Thi Thoa, principal of Lao Chai School, said the students taught in their mother tongue rarely skipped lessons and none had dropped out of school.

The school, however, is suffering a shortage of bi-lingual teachers. To take part in the programme they must be fluent in Mong and competent in Vietnamese.

Another difficulty lies in the fact that teaching in Mong presents its own unique difficulties.

"Because the Mong language is not as rich as Vietnamese, sometimes we cannot think of suitable words to explain things to the children, so we must borrow Vietnamese words to teach as well," Hoa said.

The programme is also being piloted in three pre-schools in Lao Cai Province. To date, more than 180 Mong pre-school and primary students from Bac Ha, Sa Pa and Si Ma Cai districts of Lao Cai have enrolled in the programme, according to UNICEF.

Education experts say the programme not only improves formal education standards, it helps to preserve ethnic languages and culture.

The ministry plans to extend the mother tongue-based programme to other districts in Lao Cai Province.

Truong Kim Minh, director of the Lao Cai Department of Education and Training, said that by 2015, bi-lingual education would be offered in all areas where Mong live.

Under the department\'s plan, from 2010 to 2015, each school year, a new group of 210 five-year-olds will be enrolled on the mother-tongue-based programme in Lao Cai. At the end of the 2015-16 school year in Lao Cai, a total of 1,300 students will have been taught in their own language.

The department has a budget of VND8 billion (approximately $380,000) to achieve this target. To date, approximately 50 per cent of the amount has been raised.

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