07/15/2015, 00.00
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As students prepare for university entrance exams, Catholics provide moral and other support

by Nguyen Hung
Every year, about a million students leave high school in Ho Chi Minh City. About 100,000 complete degrees in social and natural sciences at the city’s universities. In the coming days, about 158,000 students will take university entrance exams. Caritas Saigon is helping thousands of poor students with free accommodation. One educator complains about the country’s flawed educational system and government indifference.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – About 158,000 students are preparing for the entrance exam that will allow them to attend Ho Chi Minh City universities, come the new academic year.

Several religious organisations, residents’ associations and groups of young volunteers are helping students from the city and other eight provinces find accommodation as well as prepare for the tests.

Nguyen Thanh is one of them. She studies at the Ho Chi Minh City Pedagogical University, and spoke to AsiaNews. "I am a first year student,” she said. “Along with a group of volunteers I am helping 70 students who arrived in town.”

“I am very happy with this job,” she added. “We are providing counselling and handing out maps of Ho Chi Minh City. We also bought bus tickets and helped students find cheap and safe hostels. All this for free.”

Since the beginning of July, the student associations have helped 75,000 students find cheap accommodation and provided a free accommodation to another 10,000.

Like in China and other Asian countries, where cases of corruption have been reported in connection with tests, entrance exams have become hard in Vietnam.

For students (and their families who will depend on them), a university education is key for the future. However, exams are a fearful and trying time.

Thus, Caritas Saigon and various parishes in the city also offer moral support to build up students’ confidence about their own abilities. For Caritas, this has also meant finding free accommodations for some 7,000 students in hostels.

In Nam Hai (Seventh District), the local parish church opened its door, allowing 295 students and 65 parents from distant provinces use catechists’ rooms.

"When my daughter and I arrived by bus we were a bit overwhelmed and worried,” said Mr Quang, who is not a Catholic. “However, as soon as we arrived in Nam Hai parish, we calmed down as people welcomed us like friends.”

Thu, who hails from Xuan Loc Diocese, said her family was relieved when she told them that she “would be staying at the parish church for her exams.”

In Hàng Sanh parish, Sister Teresa and Sister Anna provide moral support to several students, both Catholic and non-Catholic.

"In 2015, the university exams outreach (Tiếp Sức Mùa Thi) was shut down and we said goodbye to the students,” said Mr Peter. “Even though they went home, they [the students] are still grateful. This [activity] helped students deal with the ‘psychological fears’ caused by exams in Vietnam.”

Despite efforts by religious groups and local activists, some educators complain about government shortfalls in providing quality education and job opportunities for graduate students.

Every year, a million of young people get their high school diploma and many attend Ho Chi Minh City’s universities. About 100,000 graduate in social and natural sciences. However, after four years of education, most graduates are still unemployed.

“Vietnam’s education system is not supported by society and the government,” said math professor Ngô Bảo Châu. “Each year, parents spend thousands of dollars to send their children to university. Yet, the school system is still not good."

"Some time ago,” he added, “the Ministry of Education planned to train 20,000 teachers to improve teaching. However, things did not work out because it was based on the government’s ‘political directives’. This is an outdated method."

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