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Teacher brings borderless classroom to ethnic students

An English language high school teacher in the northern province of Phú Thọ has been employing a “borderless classroom model” to connect her students with their international peers via Skype.



Teacher Hà Ánh Phượng invites an Indian teacher to her English Language class, offering students the chance to speak English naturally. — Photo provided by Hà Ánh Phượng

29-year-old Hà Ánh Phượng from Hương Cần High School encourages her students to sign up for international development projects or spend time writing letters in English to their friends, reading English newspapers and watching English programmes on TV.

From a remote mountainous area in the north of Việt Nam, her students, most of whom are from ethnic minority groups, are confident communicating in English.

They get the chance to talk with native English speakers which helps to improve their language skills and boosts their confidence.

Phượng said that she and her students had “travelled” to over 30 countries without a visa.

Thanks to the borderless classroom model, her students’ English proficiency has improved significantly. They get connected with their peers around the world, accessing modern education models and learning more about different cultures.

Phượng’s teaching innovations have earned her a place in the top 50 outstanding finalists for the 2020 Global Teacher Prize, selected from over 12,000 nominations and applications from 140 countries around the world.

The Global Teacher Prize has a prize of US$1 million, and is presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession. 

The Varkey Foundation established the prize in 2014 to recognise and celebrate the impact that teachers have around the world- not only on their students but also on the communities around them.

Last year, Vietnamese teacher Trần Thị Thuỷ from Đức Hợp High School in the northern province of Hưng Yên was also on the shortlist for inspiring rural students to learn English.

Making a difference

Born in Yên Lập, a poor mountainous district in Phú Thọ, Phượng understands the disadvantages rural students usually face when studying foreign languages.

They have few chances to speak English with foreigners, and the students are shy and lack intercultural knowledge.

Phượng said that she was inspired to become a teacher after seeing a film in which the teacher worked in a remote mountainous area like her hometown. 

In the film, the teacher visited local families who lived along dangerous mountain paths to persuade parents to send their children to school rather than let them stay at home.

In her youth, Phượng dreamed of becoming an English teacher after she fell in love with the language in secondary school.

Graduating from high school, Phượng attended Hà Nội University – a famous institution specialising in foreign language studies.

After getting her master’s degree in English, Phượng realised her dream of becoming an English teacher, and even refused a job offer to work in a management position with an attractive salary at a Pakistani company.

She chose to go back to her hometown, teaching at a local high school.

“Every student needs and deserves a good education,” Phượng said, adding that she wanted to bring better education to children in her hometown.

To tackle long-lasting problems that rural students usually meet learning English, Phượng found technology assistants.

She employed the borderless classroom model to connect her students to international peers via Skype.

Some of her innovations have significantly improved students' results, which can be clearly seen in their national exams. Last school year, all her students who were previously low-achieving in the English language passed the final exam.

Some might be sceptical about the results as English is not a strength of students in Việt Nam’s rural areas. In the past, students in remote disadvantaged areas even took alternative subjects like history or geography instead of English in their high school graduation exams.

Principal of Hương Cần High School Phan Trọng Đức said that Phượng was a young enthusiast.

“She is full of ideas,” he said.

Hà Thu Lan, an 11th grader, said that Phượng’s English lessons were engaging because students can talk to and learn from their peers in the US, India or South Africa.

“We learn much from them and we can practise listening, reading and writing in English effectively,” she said.

Well known as the “4.0 innovative teacher” in Việt Nam, Phượng has now taught students online from four continents - Africa, Europe, Asia, and America.

She is an active member of an educational Microsoft community that gathers global teachers to design lessons and engage in weekly professional development.

Last year, during the international project “Say No to plastic straws”, Phượng instructed her students to respond and was named among the top 150 most outstanding project in a teaching contest organised by the Ministry of Education and Training and Microsoft.

During the project presentation, Phượng's students met their peers from four continents to present Vietnamese bamboo straws and talk about the production process.

“Thanks to Skype, I can connect my class with other teachers around the world,” Phượng said.

“English is a living language, so I think it is very important to create a creative environment for students to learn,” Phượng said. 

“I see the confidence and excitement of students in my borderless classroom, and I believe they will become global citizens,” Phượng said.

Thanks to the assistance of IT, borderless education has become much easier.

“As a young teacher, I need to keep enriching my knowledge and teaching experiences,” she said, adding that she wanted to design lessons with IT applications, and instruct her students in international projects that go in line with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

“I also plan to launch a free English teaching channel on Youtube,” she said. — VNS

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