A classroom consists of a teacher and pupils, one teaching and the others learning, the first preparing the latter for the next stage in life. The engine running this motor is the school leader, someone whose words are less often heard, but who, nevertheless, is the driving force behind the educational team. School principal Le Thi Hieu of the Tra Xuan Kindergarten (Tra Bong district, Quang Ngai province) talks about the transition from kindergarten to primary school.
An important period in life for a child
Moving into a new environment is a time of change and adaptation, not only for children, but also for their families and for the schools. When children leave kindergarten and enter primary school, their educational life changes in many ways:
- Children have to form new relations;
- They take up new roles and responsibilities;
- They adapt to a different school environment in which learning shifts from an incidental, mainly play-based development process to a more organised and intentional learning.
While these changes generally are in line with child development milestones set on the age of six, each child develops and responds to changes in its own unique way.
School leaders, teachers and parents all play a crucial role in facilitating a smooth transition from kindergarten to primary school. They are the ones to ensure that children become active, involved and lifelong learners. Still, the role of school leaders is believed to be of particular importance, as they are the engine, driving all the related forces to support children.
Challenges faced by the school in supporting transition
Tra Bong is one the most disadvantaged districts in Vietnam, with a poverty rate of more than 40%. 80% of the population belongs to the Kor ethnic minority people. Tra Xuan Kindergarten is located at the district’s centre, with a poorly developed infrastructure. The school has faced many challenges in supporting transition.
Parents prepare their 5 year-old children for primary school in a variety of ways. Some believe that children should learn ahead of the first grade of primary school and should be pre-taught on how to read, write and practice mathematics. Often, those parents even use primary school books to teach their child.
Other parents, however, argue that such preparations are completely unnecessary. They believe that most children are ready for primary education by nature and consider teaching to be the responsibility of the schools and teachers. For the latter group of parents, school readiness is not an urgent matter.
However, kindergarten teachers already teach children how to read and write. This can create difficulties as these teachers were not trained to do so, nor are they acquainted with the curriculum of primary school. Teachers’ understanding how to best support transition is limited. The cooperation with primary school is not strong, due to different reasons such as tight working schedules from both kindergarten and primary schools, limited awareness regarding transition, etc.
Step by step improving the practice of supporting transition
In 2014, VVOB organised the training “Change management to support transition”. Intended for school leaders, it focused on the necessary skills for leaders to manage the schools in the time of continuous changes. The four participating provinces (Thai Nguyen, Nghe An, Quang Nam and Quang Ngai) in turn organised trainings themselves to broaden the impact.
School principal Hieu became more aware of her important role as an engine to deal with these challenges: bridging school and families in her community in supporting children’s transitions from Kindergarten to primary school. She shared the content of the training with all teachers of her kindergarten during the regular professional teacher meetings. Once this was done, she integrated the new concepts into the school’s year plan.
Since then, the collaboration between the kindergarten and primary school in her community has seen much improvement. For example:
- In the school year of 2014-2015, principal Hieu invited leaders and teachers from the primary school to visit the kindergarten, so that they would understand more about the pre-school curriculum and the practices in kindergarten.
- In the school year of 2015-2016, teachers from the kindergarten were encouraged to observe a Vietnamese language and a mathematics class at the primary school. Through those class observations, the kindergarten teachers were exposed to the teaching and learning methodology of the first grade of primary school. In a joint reflection session, teachers discussed issues such as teaching methodology, designing new teaching materials, and adjusting pronunciation methods to introduce to the 5-year-old children.
As a result, the teachers from both schools now understand each other’s work much better. The formal hand-over procedure of children from kindergarten to primary school has also been innovated. Moreover, a clear action plan, focused on improving the link between the school and families, has been developed and implemented by school leaders and teachers of Tra Xuan Kindergarten. Through utilising many communication channels with parents (notice boards, periodical parent meetings, and daily talks with parents), teachers explain to them the importance of transition and difficulties their children face, and how to support children at home. After almost two years, parents’ support to children during that crucial transition period has noticeably been improved.
The school leader: the engine in supporting transition
The challenges of transition are common in Vietnam, especially in disadvantaged and rural districts. It is up to the school leaders to play a key role in making the first changes towards improvement.
"The school leader, either from kindergarten or primary school, is a bridge between the provincial and district management level and teachers, as well as with parents and students. The most important thing is that the school leaders are devoted, enthusiastic and responsible to obtain quality education. The school leaders should know how to inspire teachers to provide optimal support to children during the transition.”
Principal Le Thi Hieu, Tra Xuan Kindergarten, Tra Bong district, Quang Ngai province, Vietnam