In a small classroom at Bat Xat Primary School in Lao Cai Province of Vietnam, Thu Minh Nguyen, a second grader, leads a group of classmates in solving a math problem. Her teacher is present in class, but she mainly provides support if Thu's group has difficulty with the lesson.
"We talk a lot about our lessons," says Thu. "When we have questions, the group leaders help us to answer them."
Group discussions are not common in Vietnamese schools, where students traditionally sit and write or follow what the teachers say. Thanks to a new project called Escuela Nueva, or New School, Thu and hundreds of students, mostly members of ethnic minorities from six provinces, have benefited from this new model where students are more in charge of their learning.
An innovative education model of the 21st century
Vietnam has increased access to primary education with a completion rate of almost 100 percent. However, the main challenge of improving the quality of teaching and learning remains.
To overcome this challenge, the Vietnamese government adapted Colombia’s innovative education model called Escuela Nueva program. Its pilot project in 24 primary schools in 6 provinces in 2010 was so successful that the government scaled it up to all 63 provinces. An additional 440,000 primary students is expected to benefit from the project supported by the World Bank and an $84.6 million grant from the Global Partnership for Education.
“The most important aspect of the Escuela Nueva model is the switch from traditional educational methods to a more advanced and effective one,” said Minh Kim Truong, Director of The Education and Training Department in Lao Cai Province. “This process also includes reforms in teaching, facilitating closer relationships between schools and the community, and improvement in school management and materials for both teachers and students."
Students make use of educational materials that cater to their needs while a unique learning guide also helps them become more engaged with lessons, with teachers acting as facilitators.
“Creativity and problem-solving skills, along with values of sharing and community, need to be nurtured early,” said Suhas Parandekar, Senior Economist, Human Development Sector, The World Bank.“The project will help Vietnamese teachers and educational administrators learn and apply the new teaching and learning methods. This in turn will help children acquire the skills and values they need to succeed in a complex and dynamic world."
Close collaboration between teachers, parents, and the community
Teachers, parents, and the community work closely together under the program to create a more conducive learning environment. For example, schools develop community maps to help teachers know where students live in relation to the school and community. These maps allow teachers to easily locate students who need more help with lessons, and provide assistance when they lack books, clothes, or transportation.
“We learn best when we are challenged, when we help each other, and when we are part of a community," said Parandekar. “The project brings all these elements to the classroom, the school garden, and the school playground. "