In the presence of both the UK’s International Education Champion and the Director General of MOET’s International Cooperation Department, almost 110 policy makers, sector leaders, researchers, lecturers, and teachers, split evenly between both UK and Vietnamese organisations, gathered to participate in a virtual event to formally launch British Council Viet Nam’s Digital Learning Innovation Fund on Wednesday 26 May 2021.
As we reported in the April 2021 British Council Vietnam e-newsletter the Digital Learning Innovation Fund encourages partnerships between the UK and Viet Nam designed to generate new research, insight and/or innovations to improve the teaching and learning of English through digital and online access. This pilot initiative has been developed by British Council with the support of Viet Nam’s National Foreign Languages Project (NFLP).
The event itself was divided into three distinct sections, and if you missed any part, or would like to watch it again, you can still do so using the links below.
Our distinguished guests began by introducing the event and reflecting on the opportunities for digital innovation and UK–VN partnerships in response to the pandemic.
Sir Steve Smith, who has recently been appointed as the UK’s International Education Champion, began by thanking the partners (British Council Viet Nam, MOET and NFLP) for 'pulling together this exciting project'. He went on to say, 'As the UK’s International Education Champion, my role is to help sustain and build on our education partnerships, at a senior level, in five key global countries including Viet Nam, highlighting the importance we attach to your country and its prominent role within the wider ASEAN region. I’m hopeful that we can continue in the direction of an ever-closer relationship between our two countries, including in English Language Teaching, and its applications in wider education and industry.'
Professor Pham Quang Hung, Director General, International Collaboration Department, MOET, continued on this theme, 'As we all know, this post-Covid 19 world is full of challenges, but also opportunities for teachers, students, schools, and education systems. For over a year, Vietnamese schools have continuously searched for alternatives such as online learning. Therefore, we recognise and highly appreciate the support from the UK through the Digital Learning Innovation Fund. The three pilot projects are all high-quality, representing the long-term commitment and strategic planning between the two countries and will have the potential to bring wide-ranging impacts to Vietnamese teachers and learners.'
In the next section, all three UK–VN partnerships had an opportunity to introduce their projects to the invited audience and even answer a number of questions about their projects and how they would be implemented and evaluated over the next 12 months.
On behalf of Can Tho University, the Hands Up Project and IH Belfast, Jonathan Dykes introduced the Digital English Theatre project. This has been designed to demonstrate how remote theatre techniques can be successfully integrated into language learning curricula, through the use of existing digital resources, in order to improve communication skills and motivate both teachers and learners.
Indeed, if you would like to learn more about the initial training with lecturers and teachers from the Mekong Delta read this blog from the Hands Up Artistic Coordinator. As Nick Bilbrough said, 'I love the way the Vietnamese teachers have taken these plays and made them their own, incorporating lots of remote theatre techniques very successfully and using them to focus on gender equality in their own context.'
Eleanor Maly and Marie Willoughby from IH London together with Nguyen Thi Hong Nhat from Hanoi Pedagogical University 2 (HPU2) outlined how they will partner to develop an open CPD self-access course for Vietnamese teachers. Course materials will be developed in conjunction with over 60 Grade 6 teachers from remote, rural areas who themselves will participate in a virtual mentoring programme over the next 12 months; sharing best practice, evaluating and creating new materials, including their own teacher-generated videos, which will form the foundation of the online CPD course to be developed as a result of the mentoring programme.
Finally, Bui Thi Ngoc Thuy and Marina Orsini-Jones from Hanoi University of Science and Technology (HUST) and Coventry University introduced details of how their ViVEXELT (Viet Nam Virtual Exchange for English Language Teaching) project will see over 120 teachers in Viet Nam and the UK participating in online collaborative courses and virtual communities of practice as an innovative model of continuing professional development for English language teachers.
During the third and final section, a panel of five Vietnamese and UK experts and practitioners were invited to share their experiences on four themes related to the overarching topic of ‘embracing digital learning in a post-Covid world’.
Teaching and Learning – The key message from this discussion was perhaps summed up in one word – ‘opportunity’. Despite the many challenges posed by Covid-19, teachers and teachers educators have clearly demonstrated how resilient they have been to adapt and respond to the challenges. Indeed, this was emphasised by teacher Ha Anh Phuong, from mountainous Phu Tho province, who shared her experiences of projects such as the borderless classroom model and the Happy Library project, for which she was recognized as one of the Top 10 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize by UNESCO and the Varkey Foundation, in 2020.
Equitable access – NFLP Director Nguyen Thi Mai Huu outlined some of the many challenges teachers, learners and indeed others face in ensuring equitable access to learning while Dr Nguyen Van Long from Danang University’s University of Foreign Language Studies outlined some of the initiatives that were taking place to address the ‘digital divide’ e.g. between urban and rural areas of Viet Nam and across the generational divide too.
Teacher development – Teacher Ha Anh Phuong shared the sense of being somewhat ‘overwhelmed’ by the sheer volume of digital resources and online applications now available to teachers and learners, particularly in response to the pandemic, and how she tried to navigate those. Meanwhile, Liana Hyde from British Council’s English and Digital for Girls' Education (EDGE) project and Mark Henebury from the UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) both stressed not only the range of digital resources available to teachers and teacher educators but also the increasing importance of ‘communities of practice’ as a way forward for sharing resources, learning remotely and reflecting on effective teaching practice with peers and colleagues.
Assessment and testing – In the final section, NFLP Director Mai Huu and Danang University’s Dr Long outlined the many challenges related to online modes of assessment and testing. e.g. security, cheating, etc. while both Dr Long and DIT’s Mark Henebury suggested a number of ongoing developments in this field, e.g. improvements in learning management systems (LMS) and artificial intelligence (AI), concluding that it was very much a case of ‘watch this space’ for new developments in this domain.
Summary – To conclude the event, British Council Vietnam Country Director Donna McGowan made reference to General Director Dr Hung’s words that 'just because students may have to postpone going to school, it does not mean that we have to stop teaching and learning'. It is clear that not only have the educational and technological responses to Covid-19 been immense but also that there are many future opportunities, in terms of ensuring that digital provision of English language teaching and learning can be achieved in a way that makes access to education even more equitable in the future.