Bui Van Khiet is currently Head of the Secondary Education Division for Nam Dinh Education and Training Department. Thanks to his efforts and those of the provincial government, along with support from educational partnerships with the British Council, teaching and learning English in Nam Dinh has reached a standard among the best in the country.
In his early career as an English teacher at B Nghia Hung middle school in Nam Dinh, Bui Van Khiet was not entirely convinced by a methodology that emphasised listening and speaking skills. He lacked confidence in communicative methodologies as approaches focused on grammar-translation dominated English language teaching at that time.
Then came along the VTTN* (Vietnam English Teacher and Trainer Network), an initiative promoted by the British Council in partnership with Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training, and designed expressly to enhance the quality of English teaching at secondary level in Vietnam. Khiet also participated in a Summer School programme initiated by the British Council. From then on, he has no longer felt uncertain, and is instead committed to communicative approaches to language teaching. Following his success as a trainee, he was selected to become a trainer, tasked with providing instruction to fellow teachers.
In his words: “The British Council gives teachers more confidence and develops skills that are key to managing learning effectively. We don’t need a lot of fancy equipment yet can still achieve high quality learning outcomes using what we have readily available, for example, posters or other common materials like white boards, paper and pens, cue cards and so on. Even later on in my career when I underwent methodology refresher training in other countries like Singapore, Australia, and the USA, I found the training received was not as effective as that offered by the British Council.”
Khiet’s courses with the British Council were very much a turning point for him. The training programmes equipped him with a range of useful classroom management strategies and helped him develop a wide repertoire of activities to best engage students and facilitate successful learning. Students often say that the hours in Khiet’s classes pass so quickly, with his career thriving ever since his early successes as a trainee. “I first worked with the British Council in late 2001, and by putting what I learned to use, I was able to coach my high-performing students to win first or second prizes consistently in the years that followed.”
Starting as a district school teacher, Khiet was initially promoted to a position at a provincial school, the Le Hong Phong high school for gifted students. There, he continued to coach high-performing English students many of whom went on to win many prestigious national prizes. Two years later, he was transferred to the Nam Dinh Department of Education and Training as an English specialist. He was then promoted again to the position of Division Assistant Manager (2015), and then once more, assuming the role of Head of the Secondary Education (Middle and High School) Division in 2017. Khiet also directly provides technical assistance and leadership for foreign language teaching (English, French and Russian) across the province.
While working at the Education Department as a specialist, the technical advice, coaching support and innovative training he has provided to English teachers in Nam Dinh province has helped steadily improve the quality of language teaching and learning. By 2015, the teacher refresher training programme had attained a much higher standard through the Department’s partnership with the British Council:
“I recommended increased international cooperation to the department leadership, and in 2015, Nam Dinh Education and Training Department started its partnership with the British Council as part of the Teaching for Success initiative. The British Council came to every school and sat in classes to diagnose, survey and interview, and from there put together a specific training programme. Teachers were shown a demonstration class delivered by a British Council teacher and received lesson planning support before returning to their own schools to implement what they had learned in their own classrooms. Teachers’ own practice was observed by supervisors and observations were followed by debriefing sessions to draw out lessons learnt and help teachers improve. The British Council has been very disciplined, meticulous and professional in what they do, focusing on progress before, during and after the training. It has been very effective.”
Khiet disclosed that proficiency in foreign languages had been a well-known weakness among students in Nam Dinh, particularly listening and speaking ability. This is no longer the case as remarkable improvements have been made. Since the introduction of Project 2020 (a Ministry of Education and Training programme focused on embedding the teaching and learning of foreign languages in the national curriculum over the period 2008–2020), and along with the province’s own efforts and initiatives, as well as of course the vital partnership with the British Council, Nam Dinh has become an example of best practice for the whole country. Nam Dinh’s national high school exam results ranked 9th country-wide in 2017, improving again to 5th in 2018 (even better than some major cities that enjoy more favourable economic and international integration conditions).
According to Khiet, his success can be summarised as follows: “If a foreigner comes to a primary school in Nam Dinh nowadays, even a third or fourth grader will confidently greet and communicate with them in English. I consider that something to be proud of and the biggest success of my educational career. Even in my college days, I was not that confident talking to an English teacher who was a native speaker.”
* The programme to develop the quality of secondary English teaching in Vietnam (Vietnam English Teacher and Trainer Network (VTTN) provided by the British Council and the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training was highly successful between 1999 and 2012. This programme reached out to every high school in 20 out of 64 provinces and cities across the country. Approximately 10,000 English teachers were trained in the most forward-thinking and effective methodologies for the teaching of modern languages. VTTN was also a trailblazing effort in terms of partnership engagement and investment: local governments provided the educational infrastructure while the British Council offered the curriculum and experts.
“If you visit a primary school in Nam Dinh nowadays, even a third or fourth grader would be very confident in greeting and communicating in English with a foreigner. I consider that something to be proud of and our biggest success.”