by David Beltrame
My name is David. I’m a 26-year-old Australian, teaching in Vietnam. For nearly three years, I have devoted everything I know to my job as an English exam teacher. Nothing abnormal there, you might think, but I have a mammoth task on my hands.
Who are we?
I work alongside a Vietnamese instructor teaching IELTS to 19 students in the neck of Vietnam. The students are part of the Vietnam Directorate of Vocational Education and Training Program, through which Vietnamese technical colleges collaborate with a university in Australia to help teach their students a trade skill. This skill, combined with an IELTS certificate, enables the student to move abroad to study a university degree and begin a new life in a foreign country.
Where are we?
We live in Ha Tinh City, the capital of Ha Tinh Province in Vietnam. To put it simply, it’s south of Hanoi and north of Phong Nga. We teach in a rundown campus that we rent on a weekly basis. There is no air conditioning or WiFi. We have wooden desks with nails sticking out of them, a used blackboard and an overhead projector. No student has a brand new smartphone. I promise you this isn’t hyperbole – look at the pictures.
But pictures only tell half of the story. Regardless of our surroundings, we are happy. We have formed a bond that doesn’t feel like a traditional teacher-student relationship. We look after each other like brothers, guided by an incredible woman who knows all of us inside and out. I’ve met their brothers and sister, mothers and fathers. I’ve spent the holidays with them, celebrated their highs and picked them up from their lows. They’ve met my parents and sisters and together have formed lifelong friendships. We really are a family.
What do we do?
We work. Hard. These students are studying for two certificates: IELTS and a diploma in Mechatronics, balancing 46 hours of classroom time in a six-day working week for both disciplines. Many live in a run down dormitory far from their families and loved ones. The students don’t come from rich families.
I’m not claiming any poverty here, but compared with other colleges in the project, I am personally amazed at what we can do with limited resources and time. Many of these students work on top of this to support their studies. Although they would never admit it to us teachers, I can see the struggle in their eyes as they soldier about their day.
Then there are the two of us teachers. We have limited support from an already struggling college which is the biggest in the province, but to my knowledge, receives very little financial support. Compared to other technical colleges in the project, we simply don’t have the resources available to deliver a Hanoi or Saigon-like teaching environment that is required to succeed in a project of this size.
That being said, our time together in class is always fun and informative, and we always think of a creative way to teach vocabulary, grammar and exam skills. It works – but it is an uphill battle for the students as they balance studies and the foreseeable problems in their immediate future.
So… What’s the problem?
Given the financial instability of the learning environment and the province itself, we charge students 50,000 VND for each English lesson (around $10 per week per student). Even this is a challenge for some. Once they pay for board, food and insurance, their funds become vital. As a result, we rarely get paid for our work. Both the Vietnamese teacher and I subsidise our income through second jobs. It hurts to see that I can do very little to help. Until now…
What do we need?
Ultimately? Not much. IELTS exams in Vietnam are 5 million VND each (or just shy of $215 USD). There are, however, 19 students in this project who all need to take an IELTS exam before the end of 2019 – so we need to find 95 million VND (or just under $4,000 USD at the time of writing this article).
I know that there are major corporations who offer scholarships post-IELTS exam for students to travel abroad. I also know there are student-based funds from other countries which have programs available once an IELTS exam is complete – but nowhere in the last four months of research, have I found anyone anywhere who assists students to be in a financially stable position to take the exam.
From you, dear reader, we need information. Information on who can help with funding, scholarships or sponsorships, so my students can actually take an IELTS exam. I’ve searched every possible resource from Google to Facebook, old journal articles and magazines, yielding nothing. All I have found is countless programmes that allow students to go abroad and study with a minimal IELTS level – yet there’s no middle ground of money available to help students get to the minimum IELTS level in the first place.
The best idea suggested was to write an article for this magazine, appealing for further ideas.
What we need is a step in the right direction. I’m sure in some part of the world there is someone reading this who knows someone who knows the answer we are looking for. Consider this an appeal, really. If you have any information; from specific ideas, proven avenues or just well wishes – at this point, any ideas would help.
I can assure you that this is not a scam. I don’t do this job for the fame and riches of living in an eastern culture. I do it because I genuinely love what I do. If successful, it will place the biggest grin on my student’s faces. The same way they do for me in every single lesson. This is a genuine attempt to do my job.
All I want to do is to help 19 individuals achieve their dream, because they’ve given me my dream. I just want to help my family.