LÀO CAI — During his 20 years teaching at a school in the mountainous area of northern Lào Cai Province, Phùng Thế Tùng always asks himself: "How can I make students prefer going to school to staying at home?"
It’s a tough question to answer, but Tùng, the principal of Nậm Chảy Primary Day Boarding School in Mường Khương District, knows it is a crucial element of education.
And he appreciated the problems associated with living in an area where the terrain is challenging to say the least.
"I was born and grew up in Phú Thọ Province and had never lived in a mountainous area before,” he admitted.
“After graduation in 1998, I was assigned a task as a teacher at a remote school in Mường Khương.
"The first challenge to me was to overcome mountains and hills to reach school. Even when local people gave me directions, I found it difficult to understand them due to language barrier."
The remote school lacks many things other schools in cities take for granted, especially electricity.
He told Người Đưa Tin (The Messenger) online newspaper: “I did not bring a flashlight or oil lamp in my luggage because I had not expected those problems.
"I had to light a fire to keep warm and use the light to prepare lessons."
In 20 years living in Mường Khương, Tùng said a major challenge was the lack of water in the winter.
He added: "We use anything that can hold liquid to store water during the rainy season in the summer. In the winter, we switch to collecting dew on the roof. But we never have enough water.”
"I remember days when me and other two students shared a cup of water for our morning personal hygiene. For many years, we, the teachers and students, take turns during the break to take water from an area very far because there is no water source near school."
Water is often recycled, used for personal hygiene and then wash rice and vegetables, before being used again to water gardens, he said.
But the biggest challenge is encouraging children to go to school.
He and other teachers, for many years, have had to knock the doors of each family almost every morning to tell their parents that children should go to school.
To make students love going to class more than staying at home, teacher Tùng came up with ideas to make rooms more attractive to children with more activities and decoration.
"Students spend more time with teachers at school than with parents at home. I always think we must create a happy atmosphere among students at school so that they will love staying at school," Tùng said.
Teachers decorated classes and playing areas so that students can have impressive and meaningful activities at school like learning soft skills.
They also created a space for reading books and introducing traditional culture.
It is one of the methods that Tùng has applied for many years to arouse students’ curiosity and creativity and maintain the rate of student attendance.
Tùng said his most prized possession in 20 years of teaching was the one kilogramme of letters sent to him on special occasions.
The letters were all written by hand and decorated by his students. Some letters recalled students' memories with teacher Tùng, even when he scolded them.
"Every letter shows students' love for me,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter whether it was sent by a well or badly-behaved student or the handwriting looks good or ugly. I appreciate all of them." — VNS
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