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[Xmca-l] Re: Request for advice

Dear Helena,

I have been reading your question and the thread that evolved over the past
days with great interest. Developing 'outstanding universities at
international level' is one of the goals in the Education Development
Strategic Plan 2011-2020 and is echoed in the Fundamental and Comprehensive
Education Sector Reform launched by the Vietnamese communist party at the
end of 2013. It is all about prestige. So it is clear why the goal is being
pursued, but it remains questionable how relevant and desirable it is.

In my opinion, becoming a top 100 university in Vietnam will not so much
rely on teaching but probably more on the research that will be conducted.
A paper published by Harvard Kennedy School in 2008 showed that Vietnamese
universities hardly produced any publications in international
peer-reviewed journals. Of course, language is also an important issue in
this matter but not the only one. Check at your own university how many
staff is actually involved in research. Evidence-based thinking did not
gain much ground yet in the country, so the value attached to sound &
rigorous research is limited. If efforts to become more renowned at
international level result in a more vibrant research culture, it is maybe
a good thing.

As some in this thread argued, being proficient in the own language first
and getting a proper grasp of abstracts concepts first could lead the lead
to better proficiency in an another language later on. And this is also a
big issue in Vietnam, be it not related to English and higher education. I
am on behalf of a bilateral donor involved in policy dialogues with
Ministry of Education and Training in Hanoi and the discussion around
instructional language is purely a political one, but reduced and presented
as a technical one. Based on the expressed concern to be inclusive,
Government does efforts to teach language minority children (around 10% of
the population, +/- 1 million children) Vietnamese as soon as possible in
order to safeguard their education opportunities which are only offered in
Vietnamese. The assimilation to the majority Kinh culture occurs along the
way. Minority languages are just seen (and taught) as cultural artifacts
(not in the AT sense; better call it relics) and not as a living language.
Efforts made by many development partners to encourage bi-lingual teaching
as part of preserving ethnic minority cultures have mostly been

Just some thoughts; I am aware this might not help a lot for your

Best wishes,
Hans Lambrecht

On Sun, Jan 3, 2016 at 7:42 AM, Helena Worthen <helenaworthen@gmail.com>

> Hello,
> I am presently working at Ton Duc Thang University in Vietnam. English is
> all the rage.
> In an effort to become one of the "Top 100" universities in the world by
> 2037, TDTU has adopted a new curriculum, which will be taught in English.
> This plan results in many top-down practices that make me heartsick, such
> as trolling the internet to identify classes taught at Top 100 universities
> (according to a certain list) that post syllabi that can be replicated and
> textbooks that can be bought, reduced to power points and then used to
> teach a class, in English by professors whose English may be good for
> reading or writing but is not ready for conversation.
> The plan is coming from the top administration. The students are used to
> working hard and getting over what I see as impossible obstacles (class
> size 70 or more, no private office hours for consultation, no books --
> unless you can borrow the teacher's copy and run to the copy shop). It's
> the teachers, who take their work seriously, who are caught in the middle.
> So I have been asked to make a presentation to the faculty about teaching
> methods. First time around, they asked me to describe teaching at Top 100
> universities, meaning specifically US "top" places like Harvard, Cornell,
> Berkeley, Stanford. Since I actually have direct experience of these
> institutions for various reasons, I set to it and wrote about the working
> conditions for tenured faculty at elite institutions, the ups and downs of
> it.  This was not the presentation they wanted (low course load, small
> class size, big libraries, etc) so now I've been asked to be more concrete
> and talk about methods.
> I think I have to say something very clear about the problems of teaching
> in English when your English is not great.
> Let me emphasize that the teachers (lecturers, they are called; they
> mostly have MAs, not PhDs, are untenured and young -- in their 30s or early
> 40s at most) are serious about doing their jobs. yes, they are getting
> pressure from above and have been threatened with being replaced if they
> don't rise to the occasion. But they are also very serious about doing the
> right thing for their students. Getting an education in English is a door
> to the global world and they know it.
> I want to say that an English-only approach will oversimplify the concepts
> that they are hoping to transmit (share). Some concepts are incommensurate
> across languages and will require elaboration in the home language. This is
> probably true of whole registers of discipline-specific concepts, right?
> I am pretty sure that people on this list have experience with this. Can
> someone help me say this succinctly and clearly? I will probably only be
> able to devote a short paragraph to this in my actual presentation lest
> they hook me off the stage.
> Thanks in advance,
> Helena
> Helena Worthen
> helenaworthen@gmail.com
> Vietnam blog: helenaworthen.wordpress.com