Schools and students anxious over disrupted exam studies

16:00 | 10/03/2020
Heads of international schools in Vietnam have raised concerns that foreign students will end up leaving the country instead of waiting for schools to reopen in the midst of the unpredictable implications of the global COVID-19 outbreak.  
schools and students anxious over disrupted exam studies
Schools and students anxious over disrupted exam studies

Impatience has been the most-uttered word in recent days from those involved in education, with the global coronavirus crisis affecting the operation of schools from kindergartens to universities. In particular, international schools in the big cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have had to suck it up and quickly create brand new methods of teaching via distance learning, in order to curb the impact on studying and learning activities.

While some international establishments in these cities have applied the recommended solutions to prevent the epidemic from spreading, they cannot reopen in some cases after considering the opinions of parents who may not yet want to let their children go back to schools.

Nearly all schools in the country have been closed since the Lunar New Year holiday period, although some international institutions were doing what they could do reopen as normal last week. Primary, secondary, and high schools have been advised to remain shut.

Talking to VIR, Steve Winkelman, the head of Concordia International School, confirmed that the establishment remained shut last week.

He suggested that it is difficult and generally not highly productive to have the youngest students learning via a computer all day. Representatives from international schools such as British Vietnamese International School (BVIS), British International School, Hanoi International School, and the International School of Vietnam asserted that at the earliest ages, social interaction with classmates and with teachers through direct instruction are the most successful ways for students to learn, especially so when it comes to learning new languages.

“Proficiency comes from practice and for many of our students, they are not getting as much practice at home which impacts the speed which they will learn,” one representative said. “At international schools, they are in a rich English language environment all day long, and that is not something that can be replicated at home.”

For students who are taking advanced placement exams this spring, school closures have made the learning experience much more challenging. Some schools deployed live video conferencing teaching platforms as soon as the closures were announced, in which students interact with teachers and classmates daily during scheduled class time, and assignments are handed out and turned in electronically. Group projects and activities take place through special break-out groups over the same video conferencing programme.

However, this method is not suitable for all topics. “The area where students are not able to be as engaged is in hands-on experiments in chemistry and biology,” explained Winkelman. “These experiences are difficult to replicate through video conferencing, and so some international schools are running some small group tutorials to help students bridge the gaps that exist between home learning and on-site school learning.”

Despite online teaching deployed massively by some establishments over the last few weeks, its performance cannot be yet meet that of direct learning, leaving impatient students and teachers. “Despite the concern about COVID-19, our students desire to return to school as soon as possible to study for the coming up examinations,” said Jane McGee, head at the United Nations International School of Hanoi.

Furthermore, curriculum and examination schedules in international schools are much different from those in public schools. International schools usually comply with international training and exam schedules organised by independent testing organisations such as the International Baccalaureate, Cambridge A-Levels, and International GCSEs, and these units will build the exam calendars. Thus, it can be very difficult to apply the same regulations to all types of schools.

“Besides this, there are currently not many available institutions for students to attend with a similar curriculum in the region that are also not closed. However, the decision to suggest reopening is being made weekly by the government which makes plans for students to study elsewhere more difficult,” added Concordia’s Winkelman. “Families could decide to leave the country so their children can attend school elsewhere, but that would be so challenging right now for them to arrange in such a short period of time.”

However, McGee from UNIS stated, “If international schools cannot properly reopen this month, students have little choice, and could very well leave Vietnam to catch up with training programmes or sign up for exams overseas.”

According to a survey from the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam (AmCham) on measuring the business impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, two-thirds of over 170 AmCham member representatives participated stated that international schools in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City should not remain closed through to the end of March.

If this remains the case, 8 per cent of representatives are considering leaving Vietnam, while 17 per cent plan to send their children and possibly spouse to their home country or elsewhere overseas for the rest of the school year. If the thought becomes a trend, this will create potentially huge losses for schools. With tuition fees at BVIS rising to tens of thousands of US dollars for primary and secondary-age students, it could lose several hundreds of thousands, or even millions of USD in denied fees.

It is too early to identify what the losses from the epidemic might be, according to Winkelman. “That won’t be answered until the epidemic is over and we are able to determine who it has impacted in terms of the number of expatriates in the city for future enrolment,” he stated.

In addition to potential loss of students and fees, employee salaries and costs for maintaining school infrastructure will also be damaged, even in this school year.

By Kim Hara

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