This is one of the highlights of a survey conducted by the Vietnam Institute of Educational Sciences (VIES), a damning indictment of the working conditions of Vietnamese teachers. The survey of 526 teachers from 27 schools in five provinces asked primary, secondary (junior high) and high school teachers this question: Would you still choose to work as a teacher, if you could make the decision again? 40.9% of primary, 59% of secondary and 52.4% of high school teachers said “no.”
Teachers in Vietnam are some of hardest-working and lowest-paid educated members of society. As in most countries, schools are on the receiving end of criticism for much of what ails society. In a Confucian culture that places a premium on education and in which there is an urgent need for a high-quality workforce against the backdrop of a ticking clock – in reference to the “demographic dividend” – there is even more pressure on teachers, as some of the most visible representatives of the education system, to perform against formidable odds.
The sad reality is that many teachers have to moonlight to make ends meet, which leaves them stressed out and uninspired. Those who are lucky and talented enough to develop a reputation as tutors are able to make significant amounts of money doing what they’ve been trained to do. (One of the ironies is that parents who can afford it send their children to private tutors to supplement what they’re learning in school and to give them a competitive edge in an exam-driven system.) Others have to find work that is totally unrelated to their chosen profession. For some, it’s a moot issue because their spouses make a good income.
In a related op-ed piece from 15 August 2012, the author, Mai Linh, advised her younger sister, a recent university graduate with an English teaching diploma, not to become a teacher if she wants to buy a house and a car in Hanoi. The reason is that a friend is working at a private high school in another province, where she is paid 45,000 VND ($2.2) for each 45-minute class. With an average of 40 classes per month, she earns 1.8 million (VND ($85.7), with no salary during summer vacation. The salary of recent graduates is not much higher.
One expert, quoted in Mai Linh’s article, stated the obvious: “We will not have good education without good teachers.”