Never too old to learn

Women en­joy be­ing stu­dents for the first time at an adult lit­er­acy class.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Woman - By DUONG PHONG

SOME nights, when only one class­room light shines at Nam Xuan Com­mune’s Le Loi El­e­men­tary School, you can find stu­dents older than the usual el­e­men­tary schooler.

The school of­fers a lit­er­acy class for nearly 30 mid­dle-aged women from mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups in the com­mune – like Thai, Tay and Dao – who usu­ally speak their eth­nic lan­guage rather than Viet­namese.

The class is dubbed the “three Ze­roes” class, be­cause here, stu­dents don’t have to pay any fees, teach­ers don’t re­ceive any pay­ments and there are no men.

The youngest stu­dent is 35 years old, while some oth­ers are al­ready grand­moth­ers. How­ever, in class, they seem to leave their ages and roles be­hind to en­joy be­ing “stu­dents” for the first time in their lives.

Luong Thi Khuyen, 43, was the lat­est to come to class one night. She made ev­ery­one burst into laugh­ter with her ex­pla­na­tion: “I over­slept.”

Khuyen is a spe­cial stu­dent in the class. When she first de­cided to join the class, she had to keep her hus­band in the dark about her de­ci­sion.

She said that when school teach­ers came to her house to call for her par­tic­i­pa­tion, her hus­band did not want her to go, be­cause he thought there would also be men here.

“He told me he would teach me at home, but I know it would not work be­cause he is no bet­ter than me. I at­tended the first day of the class with­out telling him.”

“On the sec­ond day, he se­cretly fol­lowed me. But when he saw that all the class mem­bers were women, he just silently came home. Now, not only does he not com­plain, he also drives me here ev­ery­day,” Khuyen said.

Khuyen, who hails from the coun­try’s north­west moun­tain­ous re­gion, never at­tended school when she was a child, be­cause her fam­ily is poor and she is a woman. Af­ter get­ting mar­ried and mov­ing to this Cen­tral High­lands province, she was too busy earn­ing a liv­ing and look­ing af­ter her chil­dren, so learn­ing to read and write was never on her to-do-list.

Things changed about three months ago when the com­mune’s Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion came to check for the num­ber of il­lit­er­ate peo­ple in the com­mune.

Le Thi Tuyet, vice prin­ci­pal of Le Loi El­e­men­tary School was be­hind the idea of open­ing the lit­er­acy class for com­mune women.

She said her idea stemmed from a talk with a stu­dent’s mother.

“Dur­ing our talk, I no­ticed that she was fum­bling with her phone. She then re­vealed that she can’t read and had been strug­gling to use the phone.

“She also told me that many other women in her ham­let are the same and wish to go to school. That gave me the idea of open­ing this class,” she said.

Her idea was sup­ported by the school man­age­ment board, the Nam Xuan Com­mune and Krong No District’s au­thor­ity. Only a week later, lit­er­acy class was in ses­sion.

Two teach­ers at the school were as­signed to be in charge of the class with a cur­ricu­lum specif­i­cally de­signed to suit their “spe­cial” stu­dents.

“Al­though we don’t get any ex­tra pay­ments or al­lowances, we are com­mit­ted to do­ing the job with all our heart and en­thu­si­asm be­cause we know that our role as teach­ers is to bring knowl­edge to the lo­cal peo­ple,” said Le Thi Thuy Van, the class teacher. The class is now be­ing held four times per week.

Hav­ing been a teacher for more than 20 years, Van said it was the most spe­cial class she has ever had.

“It does not only re­quire teach­ing, we also have to ‘coax’ our stu­dents. Be­cause they are all mid­dle-aged, they are very shy and hes­i­tant to ex­press them­selves in class.

“We have to coax and en­cour­age them as if they were chil­dren. Es­pe­cially, in front of them, we never call this a ‘lit­er­acy class’ but a ‘class to en­hance the Viet­namese lan­guage ca­pa­bil­ity’,” she said.

More than two months af­ter classes started, all par­tic­i­pants have recog­nised let­ters and started know­ing how to write.

Vi Thi Nhiem, 47 and al­ready a grand­mother, is the old­est stu­dent in the class.

De­spite find­ing it harder to ab­sorb the knowl­edge than oth­ers, she never feels dis­cour­aged; know­ing how to write has been her dream for very long.

“Be­fore, we never went to school. Ev­ery time go­ing to the au­thor­ity to do pa­per­work, we just pressed our fin­ger­print on the pa­pers. Even with our chil­dren’s birth cer­tifi­cate, we had to ask another per­son to help us out.

“I am very happy that I can read and write now. It is as if I was turn­ing back time to be nine or 10 years old again,” she said.

Teacher Tuyet from Le Loi El­e­men­tary School said many women who missed the first class had asked the school to open a sec­ond class with the ca­pac­ity of nearly 30 stu­dents.

She said the school was ask­ing the lo­cal au­thor­ity for per­mis­sion to open more classes at each ham­let to make it eas­ier for lo­cal peo­ple to at­tend. – Viet Nam News/Asia News Net­work

Women who missed out on school when they were chil­dren value the chance to learn to read and write. — ANN

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