Teachers struggle to survive in Vietnam's blackboard jungle5:45 PM, June 11, 2019
Vietnam:Poor salaries in a noble profession force many to take on menial second jobs.
Teachers supervise children playing games at a public nursery school in Ho Chi Minh City. Many Vietnamese teachers have to take second jobs to supplement their low incomes. (ucanews.com photo)
After finishing his day job as a teacher, Francis Tran Dinh Loi works as a motorbike taxi driver to earn extra income and put food on the table as he struggles to meet the growing gap between his income and expenditure.
“My salary isn’t enough for me to live on,” says Loi, who teaches at an elementary school in Ho Chi Minh City. He is on a monthly salary of 4 million dong (US$171) but has to spend 6-7 million dong on basic needs and rent.
When he started to teach in 2016, the 25-year-old relied on his parents’ allowance. He has stopped having dates with his girlfriend as he has insufficient time or finances.
“Although I try to earn an honest penny, I must wear a mask when driving to hide my face from my students and their parents,” says Loi, who started his extra job last year. “I would feel ashamed if they saw me work as a motorcycle taxi driver.”
The teacher says it is common to consider motorbike taxi drivers as manual workers without a good education. “I will not be honored for my teaching profession if I am found working as a motorbike taxi driver.”
Although Vietnamese people regard teaching as a noble job, Loi’s friends who have just finished high school earn 8-9 million dong a month as factory workers and have a better life.
“I am really disappointed by the low salary even though I am happy and proud that I have found the type of job I am qualified for,” Loi says.
Anna Pham Thi Chi, who has taught at an elementary school in Kien Giang province for 15 years, receives a monthly salary of 8 million dong, which is not enough to cover the essential needs of her three-member family.
Chi, 40, has to sell cloth and soya curd online to earn an extra 2 million dong a month on average. “When we are in a difficult situation, we have to ask for financial support from my sister who works for a real estate agent,” says the single mother of two.
Teachers fresh from college are paid an average monthly salary of 3 million dong, much lower than the salaries of people in other sectors. Although they cannot live on their salaries, they are pressurized into taking on heavy workloads. When they take on extra jobs, their school duties start to suffer.
Salaries are unfairly based on seniority. Old teachers are paid much more than new ones even though they have less work. Education experts suggest that teachers should be paid as much as those who work in the army and public security so as to ensure their quality of life and attract well-qualified people to the profession.
Young teachers hindered by corruption
Savior Phan Van Tai, who graduated in 2017, refused to pay 200 million dong to corrupt officials to teach English at a high school in Kien Giang province.
Tai, 23, says it is not right to pay to have a job and receive a low salary. In addition, his family does not have such a large sum.
“Bribery will cause unfairness to teachers. Corrupt officials take bribes, enroll newcomers and dismiss or transfer other teachers to other places,” says Tai, who now works as an interpreter for an overseas studies office in Ho Chi Minh City.
“I am deeply shocked by the prevalent corruption in education. Giving bribes to have a job as a teacher is totally unacceptable.”
In 2002, Therese Nguyen Thi Hoai, 42, from An Giang province, borrowed 30 million dong to “buy my job” as an English teacher at a secondary school near her house so that she could look after her elderly parents. Her parents, who were farmers, also had to borrow money to pay for her studies at university.
“After working at the school, I had to tutor students for years to get money and pay off the debt,” the mother of one says. “Now I still tutor students to support my family because my salary is so low.”
Hoai says some teachers coerce students into attending secret tuition courses even though tuition is banned. Students who do not take courses will be given problems or fail in exams. “It is immoral to force students to attend tuition courses, but if not, what will teachers live on?” Hoai asks.
Teachers who tutor students in English, mathematics, physics, chemistry and literature have good incomes, while those who teach less popular subjects have to do other jobs.
In 2018, Vietnam had 1.16 million teachers working at elementary and secondary schools. The country is short of 76,000 primary and secondary teachers.
The government only allows Catholic organizations to run nursery schools.
“I try to overcome difficulties and maintain my teaching to live up to the expectations of my parents,” says Loi, whose relatives have worked as teachers for generations.
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