News / Asia

Philanthropist Wants 'Book Revolution' in Vietnam

Three school children use books borrowed from one of Thach's parental libraries at An Duc secondary school, Thai Binh province, Vietnam, November 24, 2012. (M. Brown/VOA)
Three school children use books borrowed from one of Thach's parental libraries at An Duc secondary school, Thai Binh province, Vietnam, November 24, 2012. (M. Brown/VOA)
TEXT SIZE - +
Marianne Brown
— In Vietnam, aid groups warn that low-quality education is preventing the country’s ascendance from middle-income status. But one man is trying to change that by building community-funded libraries in schools.

At the An Bai primary school in Thai Benh province, a group of children rush to grab books from a teacher and place them on a set of shelves at the back of the classroom. The books are part of a campaign by 37-year-old Nguyen Quang Thach to provide so-called “parent libraries” in rural schools.

Farmers in communities like this have little access to books, Thach says. Most schools have enough textbooks but few families have additional reading materials.

"When I make the survey with the school I interview lots of farmers, workers and lots of students," he said. "They come from rural areas.  They said that they have never come to the school library to read. Many people don’t think the school has a library. So library in the school system is kind of a store room, not a real space for reading.”

High literacy rate

Education is a hot topic in Vietnam, where high literacy rates come despite old-fashioned teaching methods and corruption that undermines schooling.

Although the country boasts a more than 90 percent literacy rate for a mostly rural population, aid groups say there is a gap between what schools teach and what the country’s workers need to know.

Academic performance at Vietnamese schools also remains relatively low compared to other countries in the region. A big part of the problem is bribery, and state-run media often carry stories of teachers being reprimanded for giving high grades in exchange for money. Heavy reliance on dictation methods in the classroom, according to some analysts, also means Vietnamese students are not encouraged to think for themselves or develop innovative problem solving.

Investing in books

A class poses in front of their library with philanthropist Nguyen Quang, An Bai primary school, Thai Binh province, Vietnam, November 24, 2012. (M. Brown/VOA)A class poses in front of their library with philanthropist Nguyen Quang, An Bai primary school, Thai Binh province, Vietnam, November 24, 2012. (M. Brown/VOA)
x
A class poses in front of their library with philanthropist Nguyen Quang, An Bai primary school, Thai Binh province, Vietnam, November 24, 2012. (M. Brown/VOA)
A class poses in front of their library with philanthropist Nguyen Quang, An Bai primary school, Thai Binh province, Vietnam, November 24, 2012. (M. Brown/VOA)
Busy libraries filled with books could be one part of the solution. Thach works with publishers in Hanoi to provide a list of titles at discount rates for teachers and students to choose from.

He says that he is also looking to change attitudes about philanthropy in Vietnam, where it is common for people to spend thousands of dollars building a new cultural house or gate to the village as a symbol of wealth and status.

“The real thing is knowledge, not something show off, like big temple, or big money for the wedding, big money for the ancestors’ anniversary, they should use money for the better thing, invest for future, it’s books," he said.

So far nearly 1,000 parental libraries have been built with hundreds of titles each, and Thach’s model has been replicated in several provinces across the country. For each school Thach helps build libraries in up to four classes, and then others replicate the model. Parents hand over $3 each for the first year and $1 in subsequent years.

Thach’s model

Headmaster at An Duc secondary school, Pham Duc Duong, says thanks to Thach’s model, the quality of education at the school is higher.

He says students have been getting better results for competitions, especially in social science.

Duong Le Nga, head of the school youth group, says after the libraries were built students started asking the teachers more questions. She thinks Thach’s model helps students think "outside the box."

Nga says students have started setting up their own debating clubs in the classroom. Each class has three or four clubs on different subjects. Now, instead of relying on the teacher for materials, they run the clubs themselves.

Deputy head of the school, Uong Minh Thanh, says many of the students here will become workers in nearby factories. However, after seeing the influence of the new libraries, he hopes the children will have higher ambitions for themselves when they graduate.

He says the libraries have encouraged peer reading amongst students and teachers and for families when the children takes books home.

Although Thach’s model targets Vietnam’s poor farmers, it does not include ethnic minorities. Despite making up only 14 percent of the population, these groups account for two fifths of the nation’s poor.

Thach says he plans to extend the model to ethnic minority school children next year but books will be provided in Vietnamese, a second language for most and literacy levels are low.

Thach says his dream is that one day his model will be self-sustainable and he will not be needed any more. In the meantime, he says he hopes his "book revolution" can help Vietnamese farmers stand equal to people in developed countries.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid