Teachers learn to be more student-friendly

Published: 27/02/2009 05:00



An era of student-friendly education is dawning, but one school teacher in Hanoi is well ahead of the game.

Teacher Hong Ha dedicates a lot of her free time finding the best way to structure her classes to keep her students tuned in and turned on. Her key tool is the internet.

An era of student-friendly education is dawning, but one school teacher in Hanoi is well ahead of the game.

One of the latest buzz words among Vietnamese education experts is ‘student-friendly’, especially after a recent move by the Ministry of Education and Training urging teachers and school managers nationwide to make lessons less prescriptive.

But Do Thi Hong Ha, 53, a maths teacher at Dong Da Secondary School, Ha Noi, has been set on this path for nearly 30 years. Ha has pioneered a new software programme that makes learning maths more fun for kids.

Affectionately dubbed “great mother” by her students, Ha aims to win both the hearts and minds of her school children by chatting to them online out of class if they have problems, and setting up internet maths lessons.

“I’ve always spent a lot of time planning how best to structure my lessons,” she says.

“I think it’s very important for students to feel comfortable with their teachers. Kids learn better when they are enjoying themselves and feel at ease asking for help if they have any problems.”

Ha’s teaching methods are not all talk. In 2004, she teamed up with her colleague Pham Mai Huong to create a software programme that would help kids learn maths online. The programme received the highest prize at an exhibition on study tools in Ha Noi.

Learning the hardware

Creating the software was no walk in the park, Ha says, especially when she had to battle her own problems after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.

“I’ve had to have two emergency operations on my stomach and appendix, but I was still determined to finish the software programme,” she says.

To achieve her goal, Ha had to spend a lot of time on the other side of the teacher’s desk, going to IT courses and learning English. She also bought a second-hand laptop for VND4 million (US$235).

“Around that time the Ha Noi Department of Education and Training was encouraging teachers of 9th grade to give the kids IT lessons. While the school management board was very confused about the programme, I tried my hardest to do it.”

Ha got what she was after. Since 2006, 9th graders at Dong Da school have had classes using the software Sketchpad.

But the teacher was determined to take the student-friendly idea even further. In the 2006-07 school year, she asked her students to help her plan how they would study. Learning with laptops became the norm in her classroom.

Ha received an award of excellence for her teaching from the Ministry of Education and Training. She has recently asked the school to allow her to use laptops with her 8th grade classes.

Laptop learners

During one of Ha’s typical lessons, two pupils are singled out at the same time. One goes up to the blackboard to give a verbal answer to the teacher’s questions and the other replies via their laptop.

“The most important thing I want to do is create a cheerful atmosphere for my students. This encourages them to speak their minds.”

Being a friend, not an untouchable authoritarian figure is the ultimate aim, she says. “My kids have given me some really good ideas about how to structure my lessons. Every day I chat with my students online and tackle any challenges they are facing. I also let them hand in their homework via email.”

If she sees one student is struggling because they come from a poor family, Ha gives them books or study tools to help them out.

“She is our great mother,” a blog written by class 8A at Dong Da secondary school says.

Her work won the attention of Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan who is also the Minister of Education and Training. Nhan visited Ha’s school last November.

“Teacher Ha is a good role model for other teachers, with her love for her students, her self determination and creativity. Ha has given a lot to our country by keeping her students happy and interested in learning.”

Follow her lead

The Ministry of Education and Training launched the Friendly School, Active Students programme for the 2008-09 school year in August 2008.

Doan Gia An, principal of the Quang Trung Primary School, said building a friendly school needed to begin with teachers’ attitudes.

A truly friendly school, An says, is one in which students feel they have entered a good environment because they have friendly classmates and friendly teachers.

Professor Hoang Xuan Han from the National University in Ha Noi says to help students love their school, educators and administrators should make them feel more enthusiastic about going to class.

“A lot of students are weighed down with the curriculum and homework,” he says. “Teachers should cut study loads and make sure students feel comfortable asking questions when they don’t understand something.”

For Hong Ha, that lesson has already been learnt.


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