Story of Mr. Son La - An inspiration to university lecturers to progress toward educational reforms


Dr. Shaun Nykvist in a discussion with the course participants
Dr. Shaun Nykvist in a discussion with the course participants

Education & Times Newspaper – In his visit to Tay Bac University (Son La province) under an Australia Awards Short Course on “Undergraduate Curriculum Development and Renewal”, Dr. Shaun Nykvist was affectionately called by participants as Mr. Son La – which is their province’s name. This name clearly shows their intimate, friendly relationship.

“I always remember moments when participants’ eyes sparkled with interest and excitement as we introduced new pedagogical approaches and educational technologies. In the course, there are sessions requiring participants to put themselves in students’ position to understand how they think and learn. As a result, the participants had a totally new perspective on teaching activities and how to work with students in the future.” said Dr. Shaun Nykvist.

The course participants are 20 leaders, lecturers from the Thai Nguyen University of Economics and Business Administration, the Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry, and Tay Bac University. They have studied diligently at the Aus4Skills Program’s course since November 2017.

Dr. Shaun Nykvist, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, School of Teacher Education and Leadership, Queensland University of Technology (QUT, Australia) and the trainees have developed a close relationship across the whole journey, in Vietnam and in Australia, even after training hours, by email, through Facebook, etc. These personal linkages have been upgraded to cooperation agreements between QUT and the Vietnamese universities.

‘’Since the first time we met in November 2017, I have seen positive changes in these participants. At first, many trainees were reluctant and unwilling to change the existing system operating in their universities. However, after discussing and understanding further about curriculum and new pedagogical approaches, they became more open-minded.

I am sure that as of now, each participant is able to lead reform successfully in their university!

A few days ago, I paid a visit to Tay Bac University and met one trainee. He shared with me that he has been assigned to manage a large number of students and academic staff, however, he was not willing to embrace changes at the beginning of the course.

Thanks to the course, he realized that he needs to change himself first in order to bring beautiful things to his colleagues and a better education for students. As a companion in this journey, I am very glad with his change.” said Dr. Nykvist.

Dr. Shaun Nykvist
Dr. Shaun Nykvist

* After the course, participants have applied the knowledge in projects at their respective universities. What is the most impressive project in your opinion?

- Personally, I think the projects of 20 trainees have their own value and target reform at different levels, such as: one project focusing on institutional reforms to pave the way for changes in all other sectors, or a project on evaluation and examination practice; another project on pedagogical methods, etc. There is a close linkage among these projects.

* Among application projects for curriculum development and renewal, it seems that most participants considered limited infrastructural conditions as challenges, difficulties. In your opinion, how does this factor affect the development and renewal of undergraduate curriculum?

- Actually, access to high quality infrastructure is a requirement of all universities in the world. However, sometimes, accepting the current situation is the only choice.

I have worked at universities from different educational systems across the world. In my discussion with students, I have emphasized that a great teacher can teach in any situation, regardless of infrastructure and human resources. After all, a teacher’s job is to inspire and motivate learners, and to transfer his knowledge through lessons, no matter how difficult infrastructural conditions are.

* The projects which are or will be implemented by the participants aim for a standardized curriculum following the Australian system. If a trainee comes to you and shares his difficulties– how to develop an international standard curriculum in the current conditions, what piece of advice would you give to him?

- Anyone is able to design and develop a good curriculum. Curriculum development is just an aspect of the story, a part of success. In Australia, we have the best curricula in the world. However, without teachers who inspire and appropriate pedagogical methods, these curricula will not have an effect.

I think the most important factor is human resources – It is essential to have good research, academic, and teaching staff,

* If further training opportunities are available, what content is necessary for participants of the course on Undergraduate Curriculum Development and Renewal?

- I think the core of all education and teaching activities revolves around the interplay between factors, including leaders, infrastructure, human resources, and pedagogical methods. In order to make a curriculum succeed, a harmonious combination among these factors is required.

If a similar course is to be held, it is suggested to focus more on pedagogical methods. Each teacher should have a clearer understanding about how he teaches and the role of a teacher. The new pedagogical methods are necessary for not only teaching staff but also university managers and administrative staff. Specifically, leaders of educational organizations should embrace new perspectives, new methods to collaborate with their colleagues and students.

* Thank you for spending time with the interview!

Source: Translation of an article on Education and Times Newspaper