Last month, one of the most popular Netflix programmes in Vietnam was Kingdom. In case you’ve recently been living off-the-grid, it’s a 2019 South Korean political period supernatural thriller web television series set in the late 16th century about a crown prince who becomes involved in political intrigue and is forced to investigate the spread of a mysterious undead plague that has afflicted the king and the country’s southern provinces.
Part of its appeal is that, as bad as COVID-19 can be, it pales in comparison to the undead plague. Think of Kingdom as a fantasy escape from the stress of the many coronavirus-related fears and restrictions. That pretty much sums up the current gloomy environment mirrored by the unseasonably cool and overcast weather in northern Vietnam.
One rather large bright spot, however, is that Vietnam has 260 confirmed coronavirus infections, as of 12 April, in a population of more than 97 million people living in a densely populated country that shares a long border with China, a key trading partner and the source of COVID-19. (This includes 144 people who have recovered.) That’s fewer than all but one US state. Miraculously, there have been no deaths so far.
Vu Duc Dam, deputy prime minister, predicted last month that the total number of confirmed cases would not reach 1,000, if prevention measures are strictly adhered to. While no one can predict the future and only time will tell, he may very well be right. It is an extraordinary collective achievement worth aspiring to. For countries with the humility and vision to learn, Vietnam offers myriad instructive lessons, starting with how to handle a global pandemic.
A tiny yet highly contagious viral enemy whose crown-like shape can only be seen under a high-powered electron microscope has thrown a gigantic wrench into many sectors of Vietnamese society, including education. Overall, GDP growth plummeted to about 3.82% for the first quarter, the lowest rate since 2010. Last year, it was 7.02%.
While the manufacturing and construction sectors grew by 7.12%, services by 3.27%, and agriculture, forestry and fisheries by 0.08%, the hospitality and food industry dropped by 11.04% year on year because of a drastic decrease in tourism and government orders to shut down non-essential businesses such as restaurants and cafes as a means of containing the spread of COVID-19.
Education industry hit hard
The education industry, which relies heavily on face-to-face interaction and family ability to pay, has also fallen victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. International colleagues are not permitted to travel to Vietnam; for the time being, most advising is done online and via telephone; and public events are forbidden, which means no education fairs or small-scale events such as coffee talks. To further illustrate this point, the prime minister has forbidden gatherings of more than two people.
Healthcare access abroad concerns
One of the reasons why so many Vietnamese students decided to return home, often at the behest of their worried parents, was because of concerns about access to treatment for COVID-19 and about the prohibitive cost of that treatment, along with the host country government’s approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many believed that their children would be safer at home than in the UK or the US, for example, both of which suffer from incompetent leadership that acted too slowly to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Anti-Asian racism rears its ugly head
Another widespread problem has been anti-Asian racism. As of the end of March, at least 1,000 hate incidents had been reported since the beginning of the pandemic in the US across the online reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate, a separate site led by OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates and a third initiative overseen by Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
Online instruction is getting old fast
Since Vietnamese students, both K-12 and higher education, have been studying online since the Lunar New Year, they are getting bored with this type of instruction and looking forward to the day when they can be back in the classroom for face-to-face instruction, not to mention the chance to interact with friends.
Showing students and parents the love
Responsiveness is more important than ever. One student chose to study at a private university in the Midwest simply because his family appreciated how quickly the university responded to his application. They interpreted it as a high level of caring and concern. In another example, some parents ask advisers to update them every couple of days. They simply want to be reassured and have confidence in the entire process. This is good advice for higher education colleagues involved in recruitment and admissions.
Recruitment strategy reset
For those institutions that recruit in Vietnam, or are planning to do so, there are a number of factors to consider as a result of COVID-19.
Institutional performance under pressure: While most educational institutions have responded quickly and compassionately, some have not. Advisers and parents are watching and making mental notes. Schools and higher education institutions will be judged and evaluated on the basis of how they deal with this crisis. Expect a long list of questions from students and parents and be prepared to answer them in a timely fashion.
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