When our children teach us how to love
Thanks to the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) and support from UNICEF, an inclusive education has become a reality for Hoang Nhan and other children with special needs in Viet Nam.
“It is not only us teaching him, but he is also teaching us how to love our children,” reflects Sinh as he watches his son, Hoang Nhan, play with a blue truck toy.
Friendly, active and inquisitive, Nhan turns six this year. A knowing smile spreads across his face when someone mentions cars, and his doodling of elephants already fills the blue wall of the one-bedroom house.
Diagnosed with a developmental disorder at around two years old, Nhan has since gone to the UNICEF-supported Inclusive Education Resource Centre in Ninh Thuan, located in the South-Central coastal region of Viet Nam. Established in 2017, the centre is one among 20 in Viet Nam that are designed as a bridge for children with disabilities to enter mainstream schools. In Viet Nam, about 400,000 children with disabilities do not attend schools, and even if they do, only one in seven teachers is trained in teaching children with disabilities.Together with the Government and partners, UNICEF Viet Nam is working to expand the model nationally, so that every child with special needs like Nhan can have the support they need to learn, in schools, with their peers.
An unexpected diagnosis
When Nhan was one, his parents noticed that their son was slower in development compared to other children. He was overactive, unable to concentrate or pay attention.
“Sometimes, I called him, and he didn’t turn around. He also had a sleeping disorder, because of which he would sleep during the day instead of at night,” his mother Ngan shares. “While we were already very tired after coming home from work, our child wouldn't sleep."
Sinh and Ngan decided to travel from Ninh Thuan province to a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, where the doctor diagnosed him with a ‘developmental disorder,’ a condition that affects how people interact, learn and behave.
Both remember feeling a wave of confusion and disappointment.
“We didn't understand what a developmental disorder means and how to help him. The doctor said that it was untreatable,” Sinh recounts. “Having a child is already hard enough. We were sad and lost our motivation.”
Their worries for Nhan are grounded in a reality where more often than not, children with disabilities lack the resources and opportunities to develop to their full potential. With special needs, children like Nhan face barriers in integrating into mainstream schools and the community like other children – they are at risk of being left behind.
The Inclusive Education Resource Centres are established and promoted nationally by the Government, UNICEF, and partners to reduce these barriers and bring about change for children, making the education system more inclusive and equitable. At the centre in Ninh Thuan, UNICEF funded classroom facilities and conducted training for teachers and staff during its earlier days.
A journey begins
With an unconditional love for Nhan, it wasn’t long before Sinh and Ngan started researching more about his condition and looking for support.
“We love him and want him to develop, so that’s when we started researching and learned about the Inclusive Education Resource Centre,” Ngan shares. “After that, we entered the journey to walk with him.”
Living far away, they immediately relocated to live closer to the UNICEF-supported centre, where they met Nhan’s teacher, Pham Thi Huong.
"Nhan is a very cute boy. He likes to talk and play with other people, but he did not know how to communicate,” Huong remembers when she first met him. "When he played, he only liked to play by himself and kept things for himself. There were many things he did not know how to do to take care of himself.”
Day in and day out Huong and other teachers at the UNICEF-supported centre provide love and care for more than 70 children, many of whom divide their time between the centre and mainstream school. Each child has a different personality, set of strengths, hobbies and circumstances.
Nhan’s parents and the centre work together to support Nhan. When Nhan had trouble concentrating, they designed games to improve his attention span. When he didn’t know how to use his fingers, they taught him patiently. When imitating was hard, they guided him with love.
His parents established a daily routine of picking Nhan up together, doing homework with him, talking to him before bed. Ngan accompanies her son during lessons at the centre and repeats them with him at home.
“Even under the rain, his mother held an umbrella to play with him with sand on the playground so he could learn how to play with other people. I only provided support. His parents do most of the work,” Huong shares.
Early identification and intervention, a game-changer
More than four years have passed since the first day Nhan arrived at the centre. To everyone’s joy and surprise, he has improved significantly. The early identification of Nhan’s developmental delays and intervention during his first few years of life have been monumental in increasing chances for him to reach his full potential.
"There have been a lot of difficulties, however, with the support of teachers at the centre, Nhan has improved a lot compared to before," his parents say, not able to hold back their tears.
Nhan now has daily interactions with family members. His world has expanded to include grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Thanks to effective early intervention, he can talk and sing; he asks questions; he pays more attention and imitates without hesitation.
“We were afraid that when we get old, no one would take care of him. But now we see he has improved and can take care of himself in the future,” his parents continue. This gives them a sense of hope for Nhan’s future.
For every child, an inclusive education
Nhan is among approximately 1.3 million children  with disabilities in Viet Nam.
Like all children, they have joys, ambitions, and dreams.
Like all children, they deserve the opportunity to take part in their communities and workforce.
An inclusive education, where children of all backgrounds learn and grow together in the same classrooms, is essential to helping every child realize their dreams and potential. UNICEF Viet Nam remains committed to ensuring that all children like Nhan can access the inclusive education that they deserve and develop to their full potential.
 Viet Nam Education Fact Sheets, 2022