At a glance: Viet Nam

UNICEF helps keep minority children in school in rural Viet Nam

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Sa Thi Tham on her way to a branch school in Chieng Khoa commune, just five minutes away from home.

By Steve Nettleton

CHIENG KHOA COMMUNE, Viet Nam, 29 December 2005 – A short five-minute walk is all that separates 8-year-old Sa Thi Tham from her school. It’s a remarkably short distance in a region of rolling green mountains and plunging river valleys in north-western Viet Nam, where many children must travel many kilometres to reach their classes.

Sa Thi Tham attends a small branch school just across her village. It’s much more convenient than the main primary school, situated four kilometres away. With less time lost walking to and from class, Sa Thi Tham can focus more on her favourite subject, Vietnamese.

“I like studying Vietnamese,” she says. “At home my parents speak to me in both Thai and Vietnamese.”

Like most of her neighbours in this area, 200 kilometres west of Hanoi, Sa Thi Tham belongs to Viet Nam’s Thai minority. While she can enjoy going to school, many other minority children are not so fortunate.

Minority groups have much lower enrolment rates than the national average, in part because of language barriers, and because they often live in the poorest and most remote regions of the country.

UNICEF and the Vietnamese government are working to encourage children, especially minorities, to participate and stay in school.

Multi-grade branch schools like Sa Thi Tham’s are making a difference. This one is very small, with only two teachers and two classes, but it gives students a new opportunity.

“Multi-grade classes are important because children here stay in a remote and mountainous area,” says branch school teacher Duong Thi Phuong Anh. “If we don’t have multi-grade branch schools, children won’t go to school regularly.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Minority children have much lower enrolment rates in Viet Nam, in part due to language barriers and rugged terrain.

UNICEF is supporting the concept of child-friendly schools, which focus not only on access, but also on the quality of education and the learning environment. At the main primary school in Chieng Khoa commune, UNICEF has helped set up a small library and provided learning materials to disadvantaged students.

It’s also strengthening community participation in school activities, including school planning and oversights through parent teacher associations and education councils.

Students who live too far away can stay at a boarding house on the school grounds, jointly built by parents, community and local authorities. UNICEF provides training and stipends for cooks and caretakers as well as beds, blankets and mosquito nets.

“A solution UNICEF has promoted with the government is to install a number of boarding schools so that the children can receive education in those schools,” says Christian Salazar, UNICEF’s Officer-in-Charge in Viet Nam. “We’re also strengthening bilingual education. That means that the children, increasingly from a young age, learn Vietnamese as well as their native language. And that is a way of improving the school performance of those children, and retain them in school as long as possible.”

Ly Thi Trang is of the Dao minority. Her home is seven kilometres down the road, so she lives in the boarding house during the week.

“Because my house is so far away so I stay here. I like to read children’s newspapers and books,” she says. “I’m happy here because I have friends around.”

By giving students like Ly Thi Trang the means to stay in school, and express themselves, UNICEF hopes more children in rural Viet Nam will not only simply get to class – but will continue on to complete their education.

 


 

 

Video

18 November 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on how UNICEF-supported branch schools are keeping minority children in school in Viet Nam.

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