Friday, March 12, 2010

At the Library

Today Marge and I walked to the Middle School to visit the school library. Even though it's Saturday, there are classes and the library was open. We spent some time visiting with the librarian and learning about her situation.

Professional librarians in Viet Nam don't have a post-graduate degree. It's basically a 2 year certification program after graduation from high school. This librarian also doesn't have access to many of the tools that make life so much easier for librarians in the U.S. There's no money in the school budget for a computer for her, so accessioning new books for the collection is a long and labor-intensive procedure, done by hand. Similarly, the log of checked out books is kept by hand in a notebook. I wasn't able to figure out if there's a national standard that all libraries must follow for accessioning material, but it's only logical that there must be. The library is open 5 days a week, Monday-Tuesday, Thursday-Friday-Saturday. The librarian is also the school bookkeeper, so presumably she's wearing her bookkeeping hat on Wednesday.

The rules say each student must have a library card with their photo on it, but they have to pay for this themselves. Since this is a very poor district, the librarian just keeps the records by hand instead of requiring cards from those who couldn't afford it. Similarly, the students are supposed to buy their own school books for the year, but this can cost more than 100,000 VND for a year's worth of school books, so the library purchases sets of school books and rents them out to poorer students for between 40,000 and 50,000 VND for the year. Our librarian, however, has been known to simply allow the poorest of the poor children to take out the textbooks at no charge. She uses the money brought in by book rentals to purchase more supplies for the library.

Some of the English teachers we work with saw we were at the school this morning, so they came in and sat with us. We discussed with them the tricky problem of providing assistance to the poorest students without offending a family's pride. For example, one teacher said she had some clothes that her children had outgrown, but were still in good condition, and she wanted to give them to one of her students. So she told the student to ask permission from her mother, and only after permission was given did give the child the clothes. Another teacher said it's tradition at Tet (Vietnamese New Year) for every child to get new clothes, but some of the very poor children still had to come to school in their ragged old clothes. So she took up a collection and took the children to the market to buy them new clothes. All was well until Tet was over, and then the families came to her to repay her all the money that had been spent!

These teachers aren't very highly paid (which seems to be a universal problem!) but they care deeply about their students and work very hard for them. They teach 5 and a half days a week, including Saturdays. Thursday afternoons are scheduled for inservices. In addition, they teach classes outside of regular school hours, both for students who excel and want accelerated help, and those who are falling behind and need to catch up. Those teachers who aren't teaching a class while we're in another teacher's class often come to sit in and listen to what we have to share. We're so impressed by their hard work and devotion to their students.

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