Thank you, Clytie, for you comment to “Some Heavy Thinking” post from March 2:
You have the right ideas. Most of all, you need to connect with your students, and I think you are already doing that in some areas. However, where do they rank on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? I found in teaching multiply disadvantaged students, that there was very little point in trying to get across theoretical concepts when the students were hungry (food not provided or couldn’t afford it) or exhausted (forced labour or having to work overnight to survive) or very worried about family issues or general survival (rent not paid, child abuse, close family members at risk in refugee camps, local gang threats…). These issues need to be solved first, if possible (just talking about them can help, and give practice in problem-solving strategies).
You need to connect your students with opportunities they can use in everyday life. Can they use the graphic activities to decorate their school or shelter? Can they make things for their families? Can they engage with penfriends (email or snailmail)? Can they enter competitions or practise for exams (use the computer to drill or to create a final copy)? What are their vocational training options: can you get employers or higher-education reps to supply info. on computer and information-management skills required for good jobs? Tell them how much good programmers earn. Show them how success can give them more choices. What is their pathway to higher education and better jobs? What are their goals? What do they want to change about their circumstances (many want to help their families)? Do any already have relatives or contacts abroad with whom they could email or chat (using e.g. the GNOME Vietnamese software)? How about communicating with a similar-age class in another country (e.g. a Vietnamese-language class)?
I’d also suggest (if it is permitted) showing your students the wealth of information now available online in Vietnamese. The Vietnamese Wikipedia (http://vi.wikipedia.org/) is a great place to start. It also has links to Wiktionary (vi.wiktionary is a comprehensive Vietnamese dictionary with the most up-to-date terms available) and many other resources in Vietnamese. You can choose Vietnamese as your Google language, and search primarily for Vietnamese pages. There is more and more out there for young people, now. A quick search in Vietnamese brought up a useful article on Net safety for children (http://www.yeutretho.com/baiviet/2009/10-nguyen-tac-an-toan-cho-tre-khi-su-dung-internet.html) on a site dedicated to children, an amusing article labelling Internet Explorer “a problem child” (một đứa trẻ có vấn đề); and (for example) a search for “zoo” (vườn thú) has Hà Nội Zoo at the top, with plenty of pictures available. You can encourage students to search Google in Vietnamese (there are over 100,000 articles in Vietnamese on Wikipedia alone). Even searching in English works, if you include the phrase “tiếng Việt”: this will bring up pages which offer Vietnamese versions (although it also brings up sites which have sloppy auto-translation or just translated terms and conditions). There is a huge amount now available online to Vietnamese people of any age.
Even with the political constraints, you can make education more real to your students. Get to know them better, and find a pathway they want to follow.
I am unsure from your posts if you speak Vietnamese, or not. If not, that would certainly make things more difficult. Disconnections in support staffing, and evident breaks in communication will also obstruct your work. However, determination and sincere, consistent effort will win through any barrier. If these kids know you care about them, and they know what you teach them will help them achieve their goals, then they will try their hardest. « Học giỏi nhé ! » (Let’s study well!)
BTW, it’s important with Vietnamese students not to allow them to confuse open learning with lack of priority. Vietnamese people normally place high priority on education, but are often used to a highly-structured, non-participative “chalk-and-talk” approach. Anything else can be interpreted as trivial. Vietnamese students will appreciate being reminded that study is a serious matter, that what they do in the classroom has a major effect on their immediate future, and that however friendly and approachable you may be, you are still their teacher (cô giáo) and a person of authority. Any inattentive behaviour from them also reflects on their parents. Vietnamese parents are generally excellent supports for students’ school goals.