LAI CHÂU — At 7.30am, when fog begins to fade from the mountain tops, teacher Bùi Văn Xuân, an ethnic Mường minority, rings the bell to call his students to class at Hà Xi-Hà Nê Primary School in Pa Ủ Commune, Mường Tè District in the northern mountainous province of Lai Châu.
After waiting for a long time without seeing any students, Xuân walked around Hà Xi and Hà Nê villages as he has often done, searching for and leading his students to class.
By 8.30am, Xuân’s grade one class can begin with five out of nine total students in class.
Like Xuân, everyday, Lò Thị Thảo, an ethnic Thái teacher at the Ứ Ma Primary School in Pa Ủ Commune, worries whether her 14 students will go to school or not.
Thảo teaches grade one and two , but two of them have not attended school since the school year began in September.
“Ethnic La Hủ minorities’ fields are very far away, so they set up tents on the fields to work there during the week. They bring their children to the fields since they are young. So when the children are at school age, their parents won’t let them go to school,” Thảo told Lao Động (Labour) newspaper.
Thảo’s students are quite small for their age, and listen to her carefully in class. But they struggle to read and write.
“They do not know Việt Nam’s common language, so it’s hard to make them understand, even the simplest word. Sometimes I teach them something, but they have forgotten it by the next day, so I must start again from the beginning,” said Thảo.
To get the students to attend school, Thảo must go to every house to convince their parents, but many of them refuse. The parents also do not know Vietnamese, so don’t understand the teacher.
Bringing students to school is also an issue for teacher Bùi Văn Xuân each school year.
“I’m a local teacher, but still find it difficult when I want to meet the village leader, because he lives on his field most of the time. Some days I have to walk for an hour to his field to ask for help, but can’t find him and have to give up,” said Xuân.
Government Decree No 116/2016/NĐ-CP which was put into effect in September this year regulated that each ethnic La Hủ student can receive an allowance of VNĐ690,000 (US$30) and 15kg of rice per month, with teachers required to help the students access their right to an education.
“Ethnic La Hủ minorities do not make birth certificates for their children so they cannot enjoy the policy. We go to every house to ask for their date of birth to make birth certificates for them. But their parents even do not remember when their children were born, only if it was in winter or in summer,” said Thảo.
Teacher Lò Thị Thảo lives in a small plain house close to school.
Her two children, aged three and four, are taken care of by a relative in Mường Tè District, and after spending every weekend with them, she travels 50km from her house to Ứ Ma Village to work.
Her husband, teacher Sếnh Văn Chinh, an ethnic Mảng minority, also works in a school in Pa Ủ Commune.
“Students here have three meals at school per day, so besides teaching hours, I wash their uniforms and plant vegetables to supplement their meals,” said Thảo.
Washing students’ clothes, spoon-feeding them and combing their hair, Thảo cannot help missing her two children, who see their parents on weekends only.
Thảo is still happier than teacher Xuân at the Hà Xi-Hà Nê Primary School, because Ứ Ma Village has telephone signal so she can call her family.
At the Hà Xi-Hà Nê Primary School, although electricity was set up three months ago, if people want to make a phone call, they have to walk down the mountain several kilometres.
Mường Tè is the furthest and poorest district of Lai Châu Province and Pa Ủ is the poorest commune of Mường Tè District.
Pa Ủ Commune has 12 villages with more than 700 houses and more than 3,000 people. All of them are ethnic La Hủ minorities.
Many of them are illiterate and do not know Vietnamese, so many preferential policies of the Government and the State for them are not effective.
At present, most La Hủ villages still depend on rice aid from the State, and most La Hủ children work the fields instead of going to school, making learning difficult for the children.
To ease the problem, Trương Văn Đông, principal of the Pa Ủ Junior Boarding School No 1 said that he asked for help from local authorities, village leaders and concerned local organisations to call for more students to attend school.
Schools will also organise different extra-curricular activities such as reading books, singing and dancing and playing games to make the students be closer to their schools. — VNS