All work and no play
  • | | June 22, 2010 11:19 AM

Most parents want to give their kids the best start in life, but some are taking it to extremes and enrolling their infants in classes before they are old enough to start school. Lan Hieu finds out more.

At an early class
Hand writing training
Perfect outcome

It’s 8pm, but the kids piled into the handwriting class on Kham Thien Street in Hanoi are still hard at work. They listen and copy out words, meticulously, one at a time. There’s no time to play for these five-year olds, whose parents are eager to give them a competitive edge before they even start grade school.

A trend of ambitious parenting in big cities has seen the blooming of handwriting/training classes, especially during the long summer holidays. Some children are even sent to these classes three to four months before the first school-year begins in September.

In casual clothes, the eleven children sit there looking bewildered. Some have brought milk and cakes to keep them going through class. A boy named Trung keeps turning round to tease his classmate. He joined the class just three days ago and still hasn't gotten used to sitting still for a long period of time. The two young teachers have to be extra vigilant to keep the youngsters in line.

There are dozens of reasons why parents bring their five-year-olds to the class, says one mother, Thanh.

“I think these classes will help build my child’s confidence before he starts first grade, which is an important and challenging turning point for every child,” she says.

Thanh says she heard about the class from a colleague who sends his daughter here. Thanh tries to send her son here three evenings a week. The class is around 10km from her house and she has to wait outside for two hours to take him home.

Meanwhile, Thanh’s colleague, whose name is Toan, says he sends his daughters here because of the quality of grade school classes.

“There are too many children in the classes so teachers can’t give all the students the attention they need. That’s why I send my daughter here, so she can have a good start before she begins first grade.”

The amount of kids being sent to these classes means that by the time they start school, most of them are already able to read and write, which puts kids who didn’t attend the classes at an immediate disadvantage, father-of-two Xuan Minh says.

“My eldest had a very difficult time when he started first grade because most of his classmates already knew how to read and write but he didn’t. That’s why my younger one is attending the class before she starts school this September.”

Another reason why parents were racing against each other to get their kids educated, was that good primary schools have an “entrance exam,” parent Quy Khang says.

“They test kids on reading and writing in Vietnamese. I know one school that even tests their knowledge of English,” she says.

All good?

Lien Huong, a teacher at a well-known pre-school on Chua Boc Street, says that writing is the most difficult skill for kids to learn so it is good for them to learn early.

“Developing beautiful and clear handwriting is a skill that will stay with these kids for the rest of their lives,” she says.

Huong’s school started enrolling five-year-olds after the Tet holiday. All Monday to Friday classes are completely booked up.

“We teach the kids to sit properly, how to read and write letters. We do not teach maths because we don’t want to overload them.”

But getting your kid the best start in life doesn’t come cheap, with schools charging from VND 40,000-60,000/1.5 per hour.

Not everyone is sure the classes are a good idea.

According to Nguyen Cong Khanh, an expert at Hoang Gia Kindergarten in Hanoi, there is no evidence that early training will produce beautiful hand writing. This skill requires practice and can be developed later when the child has gotten used to school and is more confident, usually when they are in the second term of the first grade.

Khanh also warned that forcing children to study early may cause mental as well as physical problems in their development.

“Kids who have to study all the time might get fed up with it or even become afraid of studying. Too much work can also result in problems with their eyes and bones.”

Head of Primary Education Bureau, Hanoi Education and Training Department, Mr Pham Xuan Tien, says extra classes for 5-year-olds are forbidden at kindergartens.

“At this age, children should only be taught to read and write 24 letters and numbers from 1 to 10,” he says.

“However, because around 30 out of 40 students coming to the first-grade class can read and write already, a lot of teachers have to teach very quickly.

“Any teacher found breaking the rules will be strictly punished,” he says.

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