The partnership between Bui Thi Minh Nga, deputy head of the K-12 education division, Hanoi Department of Education and Training and the British Council is a decade-long story about a close bond that has been remained strong from Nga’s time as an English teacher in Hanoi through to the present. The latest achievement between the two is a Memorandum of Understanding on educational cooperation between the Department of Education and Training and the British Council that was signed in August 2018.
Bui Thi Minh Nga first had contact with the British Council in 2006 when working at Tran Phu High School in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem District. She received more than a hundred books as gifts from the organisation. Nga, at that time the language team leader, saw a new and unique opportunity to build connections with native English speakers. The books were incredibly useful and hard to come across locally at that time, including, for example, Oxford dictionaries, literature books for school students, and English teaching guides for teachers. Nga has been in touch with the British Council ever since.
In 2007, as a Vice Principal, Nga pushed for closer partnership between the school and the British Council in introducing innovative ways to teach English. Nga explained: “Historically, an English teacher typically taught the students vocabulary definitions, like what this English word means in Vietnamese, and the students learned the language through a system of translation. The second emphasis was on grammar, and as a result, students might ultimately become very good at grammar, while their listening and speaking capabilities remained poor.” With the new methods offered by the British Council, the first thing Nga did was to decree that teachers must use English as the language of instruction in all English classes at the school. Her second move was to shift away from a focus on traditional grammar-oriented teaching approaches towards a communication-based methodology. From there, Tran Phu High School’s reputation for quality English teaching rose to the top in the city, with the school going on to offer demonstration classes showcasing their highly effective new way of teaching. Many students taking foreign language university entrance exams not only perform well in terms of spoken English communication, but also lead the class in terms of dynamic, innovative and effective learning methods.
Nga’s relationship with the British Council continued to develop in positive ways. In 2013 Nga became the head of the Foreign Education Division, Hanoi Department of Education and Training. During the period 2013–2015, both the Department and the British Council held numerous workshops on English teaching methodology for secondary schools across the city as part of Project 2020 (a Ministry of Education and Training project focused on embedding quality teaching and learning of foreign languages in the national curriculumn). These workshops aimed to remedy a lack of innovation as well as challenge a pervasive mindset of dependence on ‘central plans’ in public schools, both considered key factors in why public middle and high schools had been left behind as other education sectors moved forward. After the workshops, Nga realised that teachers actually became more dynamic and innovative in their teaching practice post-training, and she is confident this fruitful partnership will go on. “Going forward, under the revised Project 2020 until 2025, the education department will further tighten cooperation with the British Council to make even more positive changes.” Nga said
Nga also speaks highly of other British Council programs like the Kids Read project, financed by HSBC and delivered at six primary schools. This project trains teachers in story-telling, including ways to successfully integrate regular use of stories into their classroom teaching practice. It further aims to raise awareness around the importance of reading in expanding general knowledge, supporting cognitive development, building greater social confidence and increasing English language proficiency. With its commitment to getting kids reading and to providing parents with the knowledge and skills needed to support children with regular reading at home, the project has really impressed stakeholders.
Other successes are noted too, including workshops on 21st century skills using a British Council model. These sessions have been instrumental in fostering creativity and developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills amongst students. In Nga’s words: “Teachers who are used to a teacher-centred approach may find it hard to move away from the methods they are familiar with. This sort of project requires teachers to continually innovate and also empowers students to become more autonomous in their learning. Teacher and students work collaboratively in the classroom instead of teacher-centric learning being the dominant approach. The change in the position and role of the learner (and teacher) is not just important for innovative language teaching and learning, but is also relevant to the development of many other core skills that the British Council is promoting.”
After many years of productive partnership, a Memorandum of Understanding for Education between the Hanoi Department of Education and Training and the British Council was signed on August 15, 2018, marking the 25th anniversary of the British Council in Vietnam and the 45th year of diplomatic ties between the two nations, providing a cooperative framework for activities and lines of work that the two signatories are pursuing.
When asked to describe the British Council, Nga took no time in responding – “Professional, dynamic, efficient and reliable.” Nga is convinced that there is still much to come from her ongoing partnership with the British Council.
“Professional, dynamic, efficient and reliable.”