Cyberspace: the final frontier for teaching English

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Learning English in Vietnam is not an easy task.

A friend of mine pays VND 200,000 ($ 8.85) for an hour of English class for his daughter. Tuition costs the family an average of over VND 3 million a month.

Another friend enrolled his child in an English center, hoping to get a coveted scholarship. The price is VND 400 million for more than a year of study and student profiling.

Training to become an English teacher is also costly. Some charge 150 million VND for a four day program with 10 teachers or nearly 4 million VND per day for each of them.

Such price tags could deter many parents from giving their children the best possible English education. But does it have to be like that?

I taught English 30 years ago. I still do, but in a different way now.

Back then, people listened to tapes, read books, and wrote on blackboards in chalk. Now, with one tap, I can access thousands of English lessons, all of which are digitized and stored on the internet.

The English I taught in the past was mostly limited to speaking, but now first graders are learning English for much more specialized purposes like math and science.

Many did their own research projects during the lockdown and uploaded them to the Internet, all in English. This would have been unthinkable 30 years ago, but here we are.

Technology can make learning English much cheaper and more scalable. For example, take an online English course. An account can cost VND 1.5 million for lifetime access. Businesses can make a profit because they only have to produce the lessons once and students can study them as often as they want. In the right hands, technology can be game changing for both education providers and consumers.

The role of teachers has also changed with the advent of new technologies. From someone imparting knowledge in its raw form, teachers are now mentors who teach students to think for themselves. Classrooms are no longer confined to four walls, but can reach millions of learners thanks to the internet.

In the midst of the pandemic, transitioning to online education is a breeze. A normal English center can accommodate a few hundred students, but the Internet can reach thousands, even millions, without a proportional increase in resources and costs.

Of course, there are limitations to studying and teaching from a screen. Options for people living in rural and remote areas where electronic devices are inaccessible for online learning are limited. Not every teacher is ready to give up traditions. Not all companies can develop programs that are suitable or affordable for Vietnamese students.

But English will remain relevant in the years to come. More people are learning the language than ever, and technology can make it so many more, especially for those who would otherwise not have access to it.

I hope that English teaching can be promoted and properly managed so that all students can enjoy the best education possible. The Department of Education should evaluate and approve English education programs to create a unified program in public schools. The government should encourage telecommunications and technology companies to provide device and data support to the poor and people in remote areas.

Collaboration between education and technology companies can also drive innovation.

* Bach Ngoc Chien is Vice Chairman of the EQuest Education Group. The opinions expressed are his own.


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