New US Fund for UNICEF Board Member and UPS International President Dan Brutto visits Viet Nam
By Sandra Bisin
Van Giao commune, An Giang province, Viet Nam, 27 August 2010 – At the signal of the teacher, all 25 pre-schoolers split into groups of five students. Some engage in book colouring, others start cutting out animal figures from multi-coloured paper. The atmosphere is cheerful, yet the children are studiously taking part in the activity, focusing all their attention on their respective assignments.
“Just a year ago, it was a totally different story. It used to be one-way communication only with teachers lecturing and students passively listening”, M. Bang Pham, the pre-school headmaster acknowledges. “Since that time, we received training from UNICEF on child-centered teaching that allows teachers to become catalysts but also encourage children to speak out for themselves, gain confidence and take an active role in their own development”.
Van Giao commune’s pre-school is one of the 15 pre-schools in An Giang province, one of the 63 provinces of Viet Nam, located in the South of the country, where UNICEF is piloting the child-friendly school approach. In this facility, half of the students are of ethnic Khmer origin, one of the country’s many minority populations.
First visit in Viet Nam
On his first field visit in Viet Nam, that took him from Ha Noi, to An Giang province and Ho Chi Minh city, US Fund for UNICEF new Board member and UPS International President Dan Brutto paid a visit to Van Giao commune’s pre-school. There, he attended hand-washing with soap demonstrations and child-centered teaching sessions.
“It is very exciting to see how preschoolers are being trained to wash their hands and how important hygiene is even at that very young age. In order to teach the children, you have to create a good environment, and one of the things I’ve noticed immediately is the running water and the latrines that are all set up in the schools - which in this area of Vietnam, is not very prevalent. Even the households that many of the children go back to don’t have running water,and don’t have latrines. So the school creates a great environment to bring the children to.. And it’s important also in the learning process”, said Dan Brutto on the second-day of his visit.
“Now I know how to wash my hands with soap every morning and every evening and especially after using the toilet. I like the toilets and the wash-hand basins in my school because they are just the right size for me and it is easy for me to use them”, says four-year-old Cheui Ta Bui. In 2009, Van Giao commune’s pre-school was equipped with child- and gender-friendly latrines.
“What I’ve also seen today is great student-to-student and student-to-teacher interaction. Children here are allowed to paint independently, to talk independently, to form groups, to count and I think that’s very important. I know that UNICEF plays a big part in helping the teachers teach in different and creative ways”, Dan Brutto adds.
Quality education still a challenge
Early childhood education, among all educational levels, is decisive in setting the foundation for a child’s educational development in the later years. In Viet Nam, preschool enrollment is recorded at 88 per cent for children at five years of age, 58 per cent for 3-5 and 15 per cent for those under three. Although An Giang preschool education’s figures roughly match up with this national average, in many communes, low enrolment rates and limited quality of education services still pose a challenge. As the country aims to improve access and quality of its early childhood education, this area has emerged as a priority for UNICEF.
As part of its engagement to develop child-friendly learning environments in preschools, UNICEF has been supporting a number of interventions in Van Giao commune’s pre-school. In addition to enhancing the capacity of teachers to provide quality and child-centered learning, UNICEF helped local authorities set up running water alongside the construction of hygienic latrines with the promotion of hand-washing with soap. Gates and fences were also built to protect children from potential injury, as the school is located just beside the road and is close to a pond. Teaching and learning materials were supplied and child participation was encouraged. The upgraded facilities help not only to shape a more child-friendly and safe learning environment but also to improve hygienic practices of school children during school hours. An annual increase in enrolment has been recorded, which was partly attributed to the changes in physical conditions and contents.
“We at UPS like to serve the communities that we work in. And I think that UNICEF does that in a very great fashion. I am very humbled to be part of UNICEF, and now going out in the field and actually seeing physically what’s done makes me realise that I did make the right decision to join UNICEF.. We’ll try to get UPSers from all over the world involved and I know that they will provide many volunteer hours and support for UNICEF. As a company, we have folks that like to get involved with the communities. And certainly UNICEF is in all the communities that we’re in business. There’s a lot of work to be done to help the children and to help other people in need”, Dan Brutto added.
Other visits during Dan Brutto’s mission in Viet Nam focused on the support provided by UNICEF and its partners to children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, iodised salt consumption and complementary feeding sensitisation through faith-based organisations, community-led total sanitation, anaemia testing and health counseling during antenatal care.
Ensuring no child is left behind
Viet Nam’s strong economic growth over the past two decades and socio-economic policies have led to major improvements in all areas of children's lives. In particular, there have been significant reductions in child poverty and considerable gains in education and health. Yet there remains an unfinished agenda for children, in particular in terms of hygiene, sanitation, child poverty, nutrition, and education. Segments of the child and adolescent population in Viet Nam continue to live in conditions of deprivation and exclusion, and ethnic minorities are among the poorest in the country, benefitting the least from the country’s economic growth.
Gaps between the rich and the poor and between ethnic Kinh Vietnamese and the country’s many minority populations (13 percent of the population) are increasing. The challenge to reduce disparities in outcomes for children is daunting.
“A child in An Giang must have the same opportunities and access to quality education, health, and water and nutrition as a child in Ho Chi Minh City. We have an obligation to guarantee to each and every child the highest obtainable standards of health, education, protection and participation”, said Ms. Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Viet Nam Representative, during the mission.
UNICEF’s programmes aim to ensure that all children benefit as Viet Nam continues to develop.