Working with a broad age range of Vietnamese students, from seven to about twenty-seven, has given me an opportunity to learn about the education system here in Vietnam and also about the attitudes and feelings of students towards education as a whole and society more generally. It has been an amazing experience where I have learned a lot from exploring Vietnamese culture and society. One thing, in plain sight, is the importance placed on learning a foreign language. Every day I have the pleasure to meet dedicated, determined students who have given up their summer break to learn and improve their English. It’s all the more impressive to me as I struggle to count to five in Vietnamese after a whole 3 weeks here. Whether it be in school with VPV community classes or more informally in Sworld, many students have a genuine desire; to learn English, exchange ideas and for education more generally.

This is a lesson we could learn in Ireland. It’s definitely something I can learn, because for a long time I’ve neglected the need to learn another language. Being in an environment where I can’t speak the language makes this point resonate.  At times it’s difficult to communicate with locals and obviously it would be easier to speak the language. That’s part of the experience, I suppose. For the students in my classes, they see learning a new language as a way of increasing their opportunities, a chance to experience more of the world and as I’ve been told, a way to ‘share their beautiful country with the rest of the world’.

Another important thing to be taken from my experience is a sense of positivity about the Sustainable Development Goals. The simple fact that these students are giving up their summers is a sign of the importance given to education here. In Vietnam, they seem well on their way to incorporating the underlying ethos of the SDGs into their lifestyles, culture and future plans.  The first ever youth survey on the Sustainable Development Goals published its results on the 2/2/18, finding that young people feel most closely connected to SDG4 – quality education.

Something that I have found really telling is the fact that the projects taking steps towards quality education that I am involved with are; student centred and community driven. We don’t have to wait for international organisations to take the lead or for governments to buy into these targets and goals. In Vietnam, some of the progress is being pioneered at a local level through the experience and passion found in organisations like VPV, with the social innovation found in programmes such as Sworld and with the positive attitudes of students. Sustainable development can be a task we all undertake in our everyday lives. It can be done from the bottom up. The goals are ambitious, they need us all to get behind them.