[hepr-vn] Poverty robs ethnic girls of education
vern at coombs.anu.edu.au
Thu Apr 3 04:33:58 EST 2008
Poverty robs ethnic girls of education
Ethnic minority girls in mountain provinces usually work at very early ages and
have little chance to go to school. — VNS Photo Viet Thanh
HA NOI — Household poverty is the main obstacle to high quality education for
ethnic minority girls, according to a new study conducted by the Ministry of
Education and Training (MoET), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the UN
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Multiple obstacles were cited, but poverty was the main barrier keeping Mong,
Bahnar, J’rai and Khmer girls from a quality education, the report says.
Despite Viet Nam’s effort in improving access to education for every child, this
access and participation are lagging among Viet Nam’s ethnic population,
particularly for girls. And the reasons are various.
In a recent analysis of the 2004 Household Living Standards Survey (Lee, 2006),
no difference exists in terms of male school enrolment between Kinh and ethnic
minorities (73 per cent for both). However, there still is a substantial
difference for female enrolment by ethnicity (73 per cent for Kinh and 61 per
cent for ethnic minorities).
Though the rate of the nationwide primary education popularisation is 90 per
cent, according to a UNICEF survey carried out in 2005, the rate is rather low
in some areas, especially in Central Highlands provinces and northern
mountainous areas, being at 43 per cent and 48 per cent respectively. Seventy
per cent of dropouts are girls.
The research found that economic and financial barriers are the most important
factor influencing the dropout of female students during the transition from
primary to secondary education.
"Poverty affects girls’ ability to attend school in various ways," said Jesper
Morch, UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam.
Not being able to afford school supplies is an experience shared by girls across
ethnic groups. Lack of food is another factor.
Lack of food becomes a barrier when girls from ethnic minority communities
attempt to go to boarding schools. They often cannot afford to buy rice that is
prepared at school.
"If the girls stay home or study close by the house, they can eat a finely
ground maize dish with us," said a father of a Mong girl.
"But if (the girls) go to school, they need to take rice and we do not have
rice, and we also don’t have enough money to afford it."
In addition, lack of clothes and poor study conditions at home also contributed
to the hesitance of ethnic girls to go to school.
Child labour ranks as the second major barrier. The need to work is closely
related to economic and financial hurdles. Girls often have to do more work at
home than boys, which leads to poor performance at school.
"When harvest season comes, we don’t see any students coming to class," said a
teacher from Ia Mo Nong Commune in Gia Lai Province.
"And when fruits from the forest are sold at high prices, the same thing
happens; My students all go to sell the crops."
Another barrier for ethnic girls is that lessons are not usually taught in their
native ethnic minority languages, but in the less familiar language of Vietnamese.
The study’s researchers said that based on classroom observations, ethnic
minorities students generally speak very basic Vietnamese, the language of
instruction at primary and secondary schools.
"Ethnic girls tend to know less Vietnamese than boys," said Ha Duc Da, head of
MoET’s Administration Unit at the Research Centre for Ethnic Minority Education.
"Fathers participate more in social and communal activities where they are
exposed to Vietnamese, while mothers take care of housework. Girls spend more
time with their mother, thus have less opportunity to acquire Vietnamese at home."
Additionally, compared to boys, adolescent girls form all ethnic groups appear
to be more sensitive to the lack of a child-friendly learning and teaching
environment. Meanwhile, teachers tend to pay more attention to boys who find it
easier to follow the lessons in Vietnamese, and teachers also sometimes focus on
good and quick students, paying less attention to those who are slower in
understanding or more timid, the report said.
Thus, the improvement of education for ethnic girls must require a comprehensive
"Quality education for ethnic girls calls for adoption of a multiple and
context-specific educational approach," said Vibeke Jensen, UNESCO
Representative in Viet Nam.
To help resolve these challenges, local community members suggested creating
favourable conditions for girls to study in secondary schools.
While solutions differ between ethnic groups, key recommendations include
assistance for households with direct education costs, as well as support at the
school level for professional development of teachers, adapting curriculum and
materials, bilingual education, gender training, improving school facilities,
and provision of safe and friendly learning environments.
At the community level, the report proposes building community support for
girls’ participation in school, creation of parents’ and girls’ clubs, as well
as help with community infrastructure and economic development, micro-finance
schemes, vocational education and financial support for girls and families. —VNS
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