When we see nothing around us but the worst in humanity, we succumb to a stupor and begin to lose our hope that somehow something will get better.
One time, I happened to read an article in Vietnam News, the only nationally circulated English news paper in Vietnam. The feature story was entitled Floating on the dream of a better education. It’s about a floating classroom in Quang Ninh Province, a coastal area near the world famous Ha Long Bay. The six-classroom school which is located in Cua Van Village looks like any other classroom of its kind found usually on land, but this time, built with wood and metal roof, the classrooms are moving relative to the tide. And because there is no electricity inside, the rooms have extra windows to allow light and air to enter.
People living in the coastal areas of Quang Ninh are mostly illiterate and poor. Illiteracy and poverty are two things that are eternally connected, the people in this fishing community are not exempted. According to one parent who was born in a poor family, he never learned to read and that four of his children are already unable to read and write but he does not want his two youngest children to be like their older sibling. This parent sent his two children to the floating school.
Hackneyed as it may seem, but the cycle of poverty is prevalent in countries of Southeast Asia because education is not the priority of most national governments.
“I dream about going to school to gain knowledge so that I can have a job on land to escape from this life at sea,” quoted by the newspaper from a 12-year-old girl named Nguyen Thi Thu.
This dream is starting to happen because of the floating school that seeks to bring education closer to poor Vietnamese students but whose dreams go beyond the horizon where the beautiful Ha Long Bay sunset ebraces the crystalline blue sea.
In most agricultural countries, Vietnam including, having many children is considered economically advantageous since many children means having enough hands to plow the field or to cast the net. But parents are starting to understand that they will never escape poverty in the absence of education.
“Every morning, instead of following my parents to catch fish to sell, I row bamboo boats to school with my friends,” said Thu. Although Thu is already 12 years old, she is still in the 2nd grade, in Vietnam students enter 1st grade when they are seven, but Thu during her time didn’t have a school yet.
One teacher related her story that one time when she went back to her hometown for the weekend break, her students cried because they thought she will not anymore come back.
Appalling as the state may be, but these teachers brave the difficulty of life in the sea, low salary, and being away from their families.
The teachers saw that their students understand the situation that is why these poor students try hard to grasp the lessons and make themselves better. Some students even ask for extra hours of tutorials just so they can cope with the rigor of education.
After they are finished with their primary school at the sea, the students will then continue their secondary education in regulars schools.
What touched me most was a statement quoted by the newspaper from a sixth grader named Duong Van Kiem:
“My floating classes look like miracle blue stars not in the sky but at sea. They are not far from us. We can touch them. They realize my dream.”
If only the drive for education of privileged students, who have comfortable classrooms and all the basic needs, is the same as the students in Quang Ninh who have to row a boat just to go to school everyday, then education will not be taken complacently as most students take education that are just within their grasp.