Criticism begins at home 

A mother reads to her children at the Pasteur Kindergarten in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Adults, especially parents and teachers, often overlook the impacts of their own behavior on children.

Google nu sinh (schoolgirls).

If you are expecting to come across charming, naïve schoolgirly stuff, you are in for a big surprise.

The websites that the search engine throws up are full of articles, images and video clips steeped in sex and violence.                                              

The clips are posted and spread online so frequently that they seem to have become the stuff of daily life for today’s youth.

Adults are rightly worried about the increasing appearance of lewd and violent material despite several warnings from experts, conferences and similar gathering.

However, amidst all their hand wringing, have adults ever thought about their own role in creating this situation? About correcting themselves first before asking their children to behave better?

Psychologists and other experts have said that students’ behavior is being partly influenced by that of people around them, especially parents and teachers.

Nguyen Bac Dung, headmaster of the Tran Dai Nghia High School for the Gifted in HCMC, says young people, including teenagers, are sensitive to their surrounding environment, and that it is incumbent on adults to behave properly. If they fail to do so, the youth will be affected directly and this will only exacerbate the influence that illicit books and films have on them, he said.

Recently, a new Facebook page that seeks to set up  a “Club of people who like to speak ill of their teachers” has been drawing increasing participation of student netizens who are using the space to express their disappointment with academic mentors, to badmouth and curse them.

On many teenagers’ blogs, anger against and disappointment with parents is the topic of numerous entries.

It is easy, as some people do, to point to such behavior as evidence of decadence among the youth, the lack of respect for and gratitude to teachers and parents. It is perhaps more prudent to see this as evidence of adults having failed children – teachers not understanding and responding to real needs of their wards; and parents who fail to instill trust, confidence and security in their  children.

A wise man once said it is always good to remember that when you point your finger at someone else, three others are pointing at you. 

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118 year old woman lost 7 sons in freedom struggle 

Tran Thi Viet, 118, persevered after losing seven of eight sons to the war against foreign occupations.

She turns 119 in 2011, but Tran Thi Viet’s memores of events and people she has met over three centuries (19th, 20th and 21st) is still clear.

 

It is not just her age that makes Viet, named the oldest Vietnamese by the Vietnam Records Book Center this month, stand out.

 

The centurion with nearly 500 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, is one of the country’s greatest Heroic Mothers, with seven of her children dying battling French and American occupations.

 

Viet, a native of the southern province of Long An, said she got married when she was 21 and gave birth to ten children, including eight sons.

 

As the mother herself was illiterate and their family was too poor to afford tuition fees, all of children received very little formal education.

 

But they were aware of what they wanted to do when seeing their fellow country men killed and their villages destroyed by foreign powers.

 

All of her sons joined the Vietnamese forces to fight against occupations, and seven of them sacrificed their lives for the country.

 

In 1953, her eldest son, 37-year-old Nguyen Van Lien, was killed, leaving three children behind.

 

Seven years later another son, Nguyen Van Tao, died on duty, and a year later, her husband died of injuries sustained after joining an attack against the French colonial forces.

 

And in 1962 and 1963, Viet lost two more sons – Nguyen Van Kien and Nguyen Van Tri – to the foreign occupation.

 

In 1968, her youngest brother Nguyen Van Dau died in a campaign against the US forces.

 

On the same day in 1973, two more sons died in battle.

 

Losing seven sons to the war, including two whose bodies have never been found, didn’t stop the heartbroken mother from going on living, supporting her grandchildren and daughters-in-law who’d lost their husbands.

 

She went fishing and did all kinds of work to earn a living.

 

Now Viet lives with one of her grandsons and his wife in Long An’s Ca Gua hamlet.

 

Sometimes culture researchers come to listen to her singing southern lullaby songs which, according to them, can’t be found anywhere in books.

 

While it is a great happiness to have so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Viet’s grief has never faded away, even after so many years.

 

Nguyen Thi Nguyen, her granddaughter, said: “Many times I’ve seen grandmother lie in the hammock in tears. When I ask if she is okay, she would be silent for a moment, then say: ‘I miss your father and your uncles’.”

 

Samaritan turns down $50,000 to donate kidney to a poor girl 

Vu Quoc Tuan at the 8th national patriot festival in Hanoi.

Vu Quoc Tuan has not had an easy life himself, but is firmly in the business of saving lives -  and expects no reward in return.

His incredible humanity has seen him donate a kidney to a poor girl for free, refusing an offer of US$50,000 made by a better-off family.

Tuan’s story came to light when the 38-year-old native of Phu Tho was honoured at the 8th National Patriots Festival held in Hanoi  on Monday (December 27).

He was working as a guard at the Hanoi Children’s Hospital when Tuan was moved on seeing Ta Thi Thu Ha, 18, the same age as his daughter, struggling with kidney failure. It was the year 2008 and Ha had been suffering for at least six years then.

Learning that the family was poor, with the father a war invalid and the mother the sole breadwinner working as a vendor, he decided to give the girl one of his own kidneys.

When he started to undergo examinations in March 2008 to prepare for the surgery, a family from nearby Hai Phong visited him and offered to pay $50,000 for the kidney, but Tuan told them he had to give it to a niece.

“You have money, so you can find [the kidney] at many places, but if I don’t give the kidney to my niece, she will die,” Tuan said.

Tuan was born to a poor farming family and quit college after one month to take care of his family after his father died of sickness. He said he has been working different jobs around the northern region, thus has a special sympathy for poor people.

Doctors at the hospital were surprised by his decision to donate. No one that they know of had ever donated a kidney to a total stranger.

The donation was made after more than 60 tests were done between March and October 2008, during which time Tuan had to undergo the pain of needles several times, including into his spinal cord.

He had to borrow money to raise his children during the period as the examinations kept him too busy to go to work. His wife, a guest worker in Malaysia, was also struggling there because of the global economic crisis.

The transplant was successful but Tuan didn’t accept a single dong from Ha’s family, though they wished to give him some to help his recovery.

He now has a desk job at the Mechanics Company No.17 under the Ministry of Defense. The company director, Chu The Thinh, offered him the job after the surgery weakened him and he could no longer afford to do hard labor.

Not the first time

Tuan’s job as a guard at the Children’s Hospital was also the result of his second nature – helping others in trouble.

In 2007, he saved a child from two fighting buffalos on the street and was hospitalized with rib fractures.

At the hospital, Tuan offered to donate blood to a girl who needed an emergency operation. The hospital was short of blood, and Tuan, being a universal donor (O group), gladly donated his. The girl’s family found out where he lived and tried to pay him, but he refused. So they helped him get the position.

When working as a hospital guard, Tuan has been known for helping patients’ relatives look for rental homes.

Earlier, when working at construction sites, Tuan had several times carried pregnant women to the hospital for delivery.

And when he was a xe om driver, he often transported poor people for free.

“Every time I see a person in need of help, I just think that if I don’t do anything, they will die. I myself am unhappy, so I understand their situation,” Tuan said.

Children’s shelter escapees lied about torture: police 

Two of the four children, Huy (R) and Hai, who escaped from a shelter in Dong Nai, show police the place from which they jumped off from a railway bridge, and were injured.

The four children who sparked public outrage with their story of abuse after escaping from a shelter in Dong Nai last month were telling a tall tale, investigators said Wednesday.

Police in the province’s Bien Hoa Town said they would not open an investigation to find evidence for criminal charges against the shelter’s employees.

A 12-year-old child from the shelter, Nguyen Van Be Hai, known to be particularly naughty and the recipient of frequent censure, had encouraged four others – Nguyen Van Quyet, 13, Le Gia Huy, 5, Diep Hieu Trung, 4, and his brother Diep Tuan Khoa, 6 – to flee the shelter at around 1 a.m. on November 8.

Quyet, who woke up later and attempted to follow the other four, was later found wandering in the area, lost, and local residents returned him to the shelter, which takes care of orphaned and abandoned children.

The other four, led by Hai, took a bus to Ho Chi Minh City where they were found by a passerby and taken to the local police. They told the police they fled after being abused at the shelter.

Khoa said he was tied to a toilet and dunked in a water tank after soiling his pants.

However, investigators say the children had made up the stories.

Before fleeing the facility, Khoa had a swollen forehead and swelling around his eyes after he fell down when playing with Hai. All the other children were healthy, police said.

When climbing the shelter’s fence, Huy suffered an injury in his left thumb from a sharp iron spike.

They walked toward HCMC and stopped on a railway bridge in Bien Hoa Town’s Hoa An Commune.

When a train approached, the frightened children jumped off the six-meter-high bridge and suffered injuries.

Huy had a bleeding injury in his left hand while Khoa had a broken right arm and multiple injuries in his belly, back, waist and leg.

Investigators separated the children when taking them to the bridge and all of them identified the same place they’d jumped off from, police said.

The children then took a bus to Le Hong Phong Street in HCMC, where they were found by local resident On Diep Thanh who took them to the Ward 4 police station in District 5. Khoa and Huy were admitted to the Children’s Hospital for treatment while Hai and Trung were taken to the HCMC Social Sponsors Center.

Khoa admitted upon questioning that he had not been tortured by the shelter’s staff as he had claimed earlier.

Huy had said that his belly had been bruised by the edge of a water tank as he was tortured but police found such an injury could not have been caused by the smooth edge of the tank.

Meanwhile, Hai’s eye-witness account of Trung being dunked in a water tank early this year was also not true, investigators concluded, because the latter was actually admitted to the shelter only in June.

Earlier, a senior official at the shelter had denied all accusations and asked for a criminal investigation into the case.

“I was really shocked when they said my husband and I had seriously assaulted them,” Le Thi Thanh Lan, deputy director of the shelter, told the media.

“We consider them our own children and we were in the process of adopting [one of them]. We always bring them with us on vacations or when we go out to eat,” she said. “I have never abused them with clubs and chains as they claim. I want the police to investigate [these accusations].”

On November 10, the Youth Union branch in Dong Nai Province issued a decision to suspend Lan for one month pending an investigation into the children’s claims.

Le Thi My Phuong, director of the Dong Nai Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, said the shelter has played an important role in protecting and taking care of the orphans and abandoned children.

The children have since been returned to the shelter they escaped from, and Lan’s suspension has been lifted.

Low pay chases teachers away from public kindergartens 

 

With thousands of public kindergarten teachers getting jobs in the private sector, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are experiencing a severe shortage of teachers.

Statistics released by Hanoi government showed that the city lacks 2,898 kindergarten teachers. Investigations showed that many teachers have asked for a long-term leave without payment to run barber shops, according to a Lao Dong report.

Dam Quoc Khanh, vice chairman of Hoang Mai District in Hanoi downtown, said many kindergartens teachers in the area move to private schools for better pay and less pressure.

Nguyen Van Le, principle of the National Nursery Education College, said the fees in public kindergartens, about VND80,000 per child every month, is not enough to guarantee teachers a good pay.

The tuition at private kindergartens is many times higher, Le said.

He said after a year of internship, teachers at private kindergartens can make VND1.5-2 million (US$77-102) a month while the income of public school teachers is much lower.

Public kindergarten teachers in rural areas only get VND700,000-800,000 a month, even VND300,000-400,000 at some places.

“Thus, most students graduating from the college have gone to private schools.”

Le said the number of public kindergarten teachers quitting their job is alarming.

The southern region is now short of around 60,000 teachers for public kindergartens, he said.

Each class at nursery schools is only allowed to have 30-35 children, “but most public schools have had to increase the number to make the most of limited teachers,” the college principle told VnExpress.

The tuition standard for public schools has become “very unreasonable,” he said. “My college has many times mentioned this to the Ministry of Education and Training but we’ve seen no changes yet.”

Nong Thi Tuy Van, principle of a public kindergarten, said the payment for public kindergarten teachers has been fixed for the past ten years.

Van earns VND3.8 million a month despite more than 30 years of experience.

“My salary probably sounds great to many teachers, but it’s still very low for a school principle with my experience,” she said.

Job pressure

According to the teachers themselves, long working days and relentless pressure makes their lives harder.

“I used to love my job very much, but that was a long time ago,” a kindergarten teacher told VnExpress.

“It was the goal of my life to become a kindergarten teacher. But after six years in the job, my fervent wish is to find another. The constant pressure keeps me tense and drives me to anger.”

Many kindergarten teachers in HCMC said they work ten hours instead of eight every day.

They are asked to arrive at 6:30 a.m. to clean classes. Even a five minute delay can result in salary deductions, the teachers said.

They have to teach in overcrowded classrooms, prepare lessons at night; clean toys every week; and wash the classrooms every month.

“What irks the most are monthly inspections by school officials and local education authorities. The inspectors scrutinize everything from children’s behavior, hygiene and learning improvement, to class conditions and the teachers’ records,” said another teacher.

“Each class has 40 children learning and playing all the time. When they eat, we have to set up the tables. Then they sleep and we have to clean up everything. It’s really impossible to list all the things we do here,” she said.

Another public kindergarten teacher said “I hope the government gives more support to kindergartens so we can pay more attention to our jobs as teachers.

“The job is tiring and the payment is barely enough for food and daily transport. I have little left to help my family.”

Breast-fed boys do better at school: study 

A baby bottle-fed in Ho Chi Minh City. Infants breast-fed for six months or longer, especially boys, perform better academically than bottle-fed children at school, a study has found.

A new study has found that infants breast-fed for six months or longer, especially boys, perform better academically than bottle-fed children at school, newswire HealthDay News recently reported.

The study, published online December 20 in Pediatrics – the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, was conducted by Wendy Oddy, a researcher at the Australia-based Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, and her colleagues.

According to the news source, the study group surveyed the academic scores at age 10 of more than 1,000 children in Western Australia.

After adjusting for gender, family income, maternal factors, and early stimulation at home like reading to children, the study found that babies breast-fed for six months or longer had higher academic scores on standardized tests than those breast-fed for less than six months.

However, the improvements were only significant from a statistical point of view for the boys, according to the study.

In fact, the surveyed boys were found to score better in math, reading, spelling and writing if they were breast-fed six months or more, while girls had a small but statistically insignificant benefit in reading scores, HealthDay News quoted the study as saying.

The reason for the gender difference is unclear.

But, Oddy said that the protective role of breast milk on the brain and its later consequences for language development may have greater benefits for boys because they are more vulnerable during critical development periods.

Dr. Ruth Lawrence, director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center at the University Of Rochester School Of Medicine in New York said that the new findings should not discourage mothers from breastfeeding their daughters, because human milk has nutrients important for brain development for both sexes.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), less than 20 percent of infants in Vietnam are breastfed exclusively during the first six months.

The organization estimates the average rate of exclusive breastfeeding for Asia at 42 percent.

City schools add yoga 

Children at a Ho Chi Minh City kindergarten during a yoga session

Yoga has become a part of the daily routine for Ho Chi Minh City schoolchildren - grades K to 12.

 

Tre Tho (Little Children) kindergarten in Tan Binh District says it was the first school in Vietnam to include yoga in their syllabus.

 

The children begin their lessons by gathering in a circle and take slow, deep breaths while sitting and lying.

 

Soft music is turned on, the children are told to close their eyes and sit in the lotus position, listening to a fairy tale told by the teacher.

 

Sometimes the teacher stops and asks the children to visualize, with their eyes still closed, an object like an animal, mentioned in the story.

 

The teachers have also tried to associate a character in the fairy tales – the bee, the tree, the flower or the crocodile – with a yoga act.

 

“I like the crocodile and the lion pose," said Ho Nhuan Phat, 5. "Every time I practice, I feel stronger. I always do it for my parents to see at home.”

 

Nguyen Thi Binh, principal of the kindergarten, said yoga has been taught at the school for two months. “We have done a research and found out that several schools in Japan have taught yoga to kindergarten children, so we decided to follow.”

 

Thai yoga trainer Didi Ananda Carushila helps the school teachers and teacher assistants to have ten children practice at a time, for around 60 minutes.

 

Meanwhile, Luong The Vinh High School in District 1 now offers yoga classes every Sunday as an extra-curricular activity. The school has even invited an Indian trainer to instruct the students.

 

Do Hoang Hung, an eleventh grader at the school, said “My friends and I are very interested. We feel relaxed and buoyant after every session.

 

“And the most important thing is we learn to concentrate thanks to meditation practice.”

 

The school principal Kim Vinh Phuc said they began offering yoga classes after many parents complained about how their children spent all their time at home playing online games.

 

“Many students have told me they want the school to maintain the class regularly,” Phuc said.

 

Doctor Nguyen Trong Anh, vice chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Sports and Gymnastics Medicine Association, said students including kindergarteners are restless and can hardly focus on a specific thing.

 

So yoga is very useful in cultivating their ability to concentrate.

 

Yoga has been taught during gym classes at many schools in the US, Japan and India.

 

Several yoga centers in Hanoi and HCMC have also opened classes for children.