As part of ongoing professional development provided by the Institute of Professional Development, University of Waikato, for teachers from Vinschool I travelled to Vietnam in June with a colleague to facilitate 6 modules of work, firstly in Hanoi and then in Ho Chi Minh city. Mary and I were in Hanoi for two weeks and then Ho Chi Minh for two weeks, so a great chance to see a few sights and taste the culture of Vietnam, when our work allowed us time off.
We arrived in Hanoi on a Friday. The first thing I always notice, about any country when I travel, is the architecture and this did not fail to disappoint. The buildings in the cities were so often very tall and narrow, from skyscrapers to residential properties. This photo was taken from the taxi on our journey to our skyscraper apartment. The scene is pretty typical of many of the streets in Hanoi, although without the usual jumble of electrical wires often found along the roadside. Motorbikes strew all of the footpaths in Hanoi and there are moves to have them banned from the city centre.
We were working for the private Vinschool and stayed in the apartment complex which houses many of the families whose children attend Vinschool. It is beautifully planned and has manicured gardens and playgrounds, as well as a large underground shopping mall so residents are well catered for in terms of amenities. Each day we would walk from our apartment to the school which was about a block away but within the boundaries of the Vin group complex. The temperatures were high (well over 30 each day) but not as high as the last time that Mary had been over when Hanoi was experiencing high 30s each day. I was pretty pleased about that as just the walk to the school had us pretty hot each morning.
Our work entailed a variety of activities and strategies that the teachers could use in their own classrooms (from kindergarten to high school) so a lot of learning involved a lot of student-centered fun. The Vietnamese teachers entered into all activities fully and were not shy about getting right into the role plays and expressing their own individual styles. I was interested in how they would be able to adapt a lot of the pedagogies to suit their prescriptive national curriculum.
The Vinschools are working on building modern teaching practices into all of their schools, which is awesome, but the pressure is on for all of the teachers to deliver a lot of content as well. I can see a huge future for digital learning to play a place in helping them do that. As much as possible I tried to incorporate digital ways of achieving some of the outcomes of the modules. The Vietnamese teachers were very keen on learning more of these. They have some very digitally competent teachers, and every one of them had mobile phones which they used extensively to access and interact with the learning we were facilitating. It was great to see them working together, in blended ways - using phones or laptops, to access learning which could then be expressed in a poster for example.
I noticed that the teachers all helped each other with their devices. Some were less used to accessing learning this way, but we provided QR codes and shortened URLs in each session so that they were all pretty much experts at this by the time we left.
We had them working on collaborative google docs and slides, using Flipgrid to record oral responses, Menti to gauge class opinions, using images and videos to illustrate learning, for example. At the end of the modules, the teachers were required to present their team's learning in multimedia ways and we were blown away by the myriad of tools they used to do this.
Each evening, we had a chance to experience different food, the traffic and a bit of the culture of Hanoi. We went to the night market in the centre of Hanoi, where we experienced a typical downpour and were soaked within minutes, even with our umbrellas up! It was the rainy season and rained nearly every night when we were there. I think I saw patches of blue sky about 5 times over the month!
The night marketis a great place to really feel what it is like living in a country of 92 million people. It is crowded, steamy, noisy, smelly and happy. Street carts are set up down the middle of Hang Dao Street, selling all sorts of wares - souvenirs, food, homewares and the famous silk scarves. Well worth the experience.
We also had a chance on one day to tour Southward into the country, to the Bai Dinh temple, which is a modern temple built around an old existing pagoda temple and to the Trang An caves. It was hot and steamy in the mountains and we were exhausted after a huge climb at the temple and paddling up the river at the end of the day to help shorten the upstream journey. Soaked again, but this time with sweat! The countryside was beautiful - paddy fields and the astonishing mountains rising steeply out of the flats as if pushed up by giants from underground. Mental note to self - must find out about the geology of this place!
This day tour was a really lovely break from the classroom but we were exhausted and early to bed that night!
The tour group that we went (not the one in the link above) with seemed a bit disorganised (they left someone behind whom we then had to wait for) and therefore it all seemed very rushed.
The lunch that was planned seemed to have already been picked over by many before us, and we arrived just as a power outage stopped the fans and lights in the restaurant, thus making for an uncomfortable meal Mary left an appropriate review on the Viator site for them.
The rest of the modules passed quickly, followed by the group presentations and before long we were saying our goodbyes as we prepared to leave Hanoi for Ho Chi Minh. This was unexpectedly emotional as the teachers flooded us with gifts and praise. We were treated like royalty as the certificates of completion were handed out and the teachers were briefed on the next phase of their learning, which was to prepare a video to help pass on their learning. We are to provide online support from New Zealand for the next few months so that they can achieve this.
What an opportunity we have had, in the development of modern pedagogy in Vietnam and to be immersed in the culture and environment of Hanoi. The people have been amazingly hospitable, gracious and humble. We have been treated to exceptional food, sights and experiences and made increasingly aware of the international culture of teachers - to continually strive for improvement for the benefit of learners everywhere.
This final video shows the trip to the airport. My next post will give an overview of the time in Ho Chi Minh where the teachers are also outgoing and friendly, and have the same relentless positivism about teaching and learning.