STEM in Vietnam

Vietnam: An amazing week with passionate, professional educators. A pleasure beyond words.

Best advice: Cross the road carefully.

They weren’t kidding. The eyes in the back of my head (it’s a teacher thing) came in pretty handy when visiting Hanoi this February. I spent the week working with lecturers in education at the Hanoi Pedagogical University, developing their understanding of STEM and how learning outcomes can be approved when adopting the practical approaches of these subjects. Lecturers were mainly Vietnamese speakers, with a range of experiences both as lecturers and as teachers. They shared a passion for learning and teaching and were keen to adopt new ideas. The week was a joint venture between UK-based Dragonfly Training and Educe Solutions in Vietnam, a versatile and innovative company offering training and development for the education sector.

Hanoi is a long way from home but the hospitality I received was exceptional and a there was a warm welcome from University staff and the lecturers on the course. I was fortunate to have a couple of days either side of the course to explore the Old Quarter in Hanoi. It’s such a bustling place with something happening on every street. The buzz of motorcycles and honking taxis and cars is literally in your face for most of the day. There’s an onslaught for all senses, stimulated by smells, sights, sounds, the thick air in your lungs and street food stalls, tempting with doughnuts, skewered sizzling chicken or a waft of garlic, chilli and ginger as you pass another noodle bar. Locals perched uncomfortably on little seats (little from my perspective anyway), hunched over a bowl of Pho’, fiddling with chopsticks, supping the soup or spooning rice noodles into their mouths. The Sunday morning streets around Hoàn Kiēm Lake are pedestrianised and fill up rapidly from about nine o’clock as families gather to chat over coffee, play games, walk, dance, stretch, exercise, paint, build towers, take photos or just hang out with friends. Early arrivals are big groups of kids with load speakers practising their dance moves as if they were getting ready for the next big talent show. There were also a group of locals, picking up litter with tongs – it just seemed to be the ‘thing’ to do.

Hanoi: Sunday morning

I was not the only visitor to Hanoi that week. Much was made of the heralded arrival of two key players in world peace. At least that’s how many people see it. The flags were out, the blooms ready, the pavements swept and the security forces prepped. Trump and Kim t-shirts alongside hats, flags, badges, scarves, models and postcards decked out every souvenir shop along the way. Hanoi touts itself quite proudly as the ‘City of Peace’ and was keen to see it all end successfully. Never mind. We live in hope.

With a few recommendations #asktwitter and a knowledgeable local source I had some idea of things to try on the menu. Noodles was a must. Rice and egg. Both done in a broth with pork slices. The meat is not what you might find in the UK. It’s fatty, chewy and full of bits but it goes with the territory. The flavour is good. Chilli, salt, garlic, lime and ginger dominate with a hint of parsley, coriander and red and green perilla. We had sushi, spring rolls, rice: the usual. Throw in lunch at a buffalo restaurant, with blood, stomach lining and sliced steak and a local treat of seafood hotpot (with a central boiling pot where all the seafood is cooked along with noodles, herbs and vegetables) and you get the idea that food is major part of their life. Top of the list has to be the egg coffee. A whipped crème style custard floating on a viciously strong, thick black coffee. Didn’t think I’d like it. I was so wrong.

The most part of the week was spent an hour north of Hanoi, working at the University and residing at a beautiful lakeside resort. An empty resort. Quiet, peaceful and serene until the Friday night birthday party, accompanied by lots of ‘three cheers’ in Vietnamese and three hours of painful karaoke.

Five days of training meant building good relationships with delegates. Lots of laughs even through translation from Vietnamese to English and vice versa. Lots of practical activities, mainly sourced from Practical Action, to build STEM competencies and confidence. We looked at floating gardens, water filters and tomato carrying cable systems. All the resources for these are on the Practical Action website. Free and high quality (what’s not to like?) We also made balloon racing cars (they got very excited about these), spaghetti and marshmallow towers, vertical marble runs on a wall and egg-carrying parachutes dropped from the tenth floor of the huge central hall. We discussed key tenets of good teaching and learning, we discussed assessment, measuring progress, listening, questioning and promoting diversity and understanding. We worked hard to overcome the need to add labels to types of teaching or methodologies and through exhaustive post-training Q&A sessions we thrashed out the nuts and bolts of STEM for a 21st Century Vietnam. Through a sophisticated online academy, Educe Solutions have also been able to set assignments, quizzes, check progress of delegates and open forums for discussion over key issues evolving from training. Huge thanks go to all the staff at Educe (especially Thanh and Tuan), working on translations, site development and purchasing my extraordinarily long list of resources for the practical training sessions including sand, gravel, tomatoes and lots and lots of tape.

parachutes: couldn’t resist!

I will save my rant about Thai Airways, delayed flights, missed connections, broken promises and a disappearing suitcase for another time and place. It did little to spoil the incredible experience of a week working with highly educated, hard working and passionate educators. Hanoi has a great deal to offer. The down-to-earth, rapidly developing country with incredible people will stay long in the memory and will always be a place I would like to return to.

Author: Marcus Cherrill

Teacher, scientist, runner.

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