Lately, I have been more involved with my compatriots in organising classes on Ethics Education, linked to the educational project called “Ethics in Higher Education” that has been implemented around the world, mainly in African, Latin American contexts. I am now sharing some reflections on Ethics and Culture in the Vietnamese context.
First of all, an overview on the Vietnamese culture and tradition is necessary to understand what role ethics is playing in our society. Coming from the confucian tradition, we – as Vietnamese – were naturally inclined to respect the social hierarchy, which is comprised of mainly four social classes, according to the confucian definition: the intellectuals (Sy), the peasantry (Nong), the artisans (Cong), and lastly the businessmen (Thuong). In this order, we can see that intellectuals occupied a primary role in the pre-modern Vietnamese society.
In the main, the Vietnamese belief system draws its foundation on values and virtues based on philosophies such as Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism – considered as the ‘triple religion’ (tam giao) – that are prevalent in the Vietnamese culture.
However, Vietnam owes much of its belief system to folk tales and in the traditional sense, and therefore, Vietnamese people do not belong to one unified group of believers of any of these philosophical schools. The main “religion” of Vietnamese is mainly the 3 social relations according to confucian definitions (Tam Cuong) that is translated in the cult of ancestors (Dao ong ba). The main “virtues” that are practiced according the Confucian five main values (Ngu Thuong).
The Vietnamese oral tradition played an important role in the education to the masses, by reminding the importance of virtues – defined by the confucian ethics based on the social hierarchy which is the respect for autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice – and the moral values of these four prima facie principles. So, in our young days of pre-communist regime, we were reminded of our duty and respect of the social order through these teachings.
In this context, teachers, parents, priests or monks are important stakeholders of a social system that evolves around the family as the nucleus of society.
In my discussions in class with participants on the decline of ethical values in post-modern Vietnam, the main points noted are about the challenges faced by teachers in their role as educators, in terms of compliance to a curriculum that is conceived and designed by bureaucrats that leave no ground for innovation or independence to the teachers in the process of “educating” the students. One teacher mentioned that the relationship between the “educator” and the “learners” is greatly restricted within the objective on skills development, rather than “behaviour formation” that is part of the education process. Others mentioned the over-population in class made it difficult for the teacher to follow up students with behavioural problems on an individualised level.
On another level, the perception on the declining sense of responsibility of teachers are expressed with cases at hand with concerns about the declining moral atmosphere of the whole society, due to the lack of “moral education” of the younger generations. Parents who are also under pressure of paying high tuition fees for the “private tuition” claimed by teachers who need to make ends meet as a compensation to their merger (or some time not-paid salary), have delegated their educational duty to the hands of teachers. Moreover, both teachers, students, and parents are under the pressure of maintaining the “political correctness” of the learning process, in line with the political agenda.
Indeed, although the motto of education is about strengthening human values in the learners, that priority should be focused on the “respect or values or ethics” (in vietnamese: “Tien hoc le”), before proceeding to “acquire the knowledge” ( in vietnamese: “Hau hoc van”), both parents and teachers are under pressure to prepare their children/students to a professional life that is defined by the external signs of success in terms financial benefits, social advancement as preferred to ethical considerations to the less privileged strata of society.
The definition of “ethics” is therefore prone to a closer analysis of post-modern belief systems. First, at the national level, where virtues include loyalty to the organisation, in a liberal capitalist society, read “corporate culture” conformity; in a totalitarian system, read “loyalty to the ruling party”; and in a religion-based regime, read “conformity to the prevalent religious norms”. So, in any political system, the definition of “ethics” is adapted to the values defined by the belief system that is underlying of that political system. Similarly, the definition of “ethics” for the Vietnamese education system follows the same tendency.
From the discussions in different groups of teaching professionals, coming from various backgrounds, the overall sentiments were that the family, the school and the society are the three basic pillars of a good and healthy education, and these three should work together, with in mind that the social environment can only benefit of the positive outcomes of a philosophy of education aimed at sustainability.
The conclusions that derived from these discussions (on Vietnam) then to come to the same conclusions that I have witnessed from other groups from Afghanistan, Africa that face similar challenges, although at a different level. These conclusions are that we all need a code of conduct, that are accepted and enforced by the community involved.
In the case of Vietnamese context, the Charter proposed by the Global Federation of Vietnamese Teachers Unions (VNTU) seems to be a text worth of consideration to be adapted to the teaching professionals who value ethical education.
Details of the Charter can be consulted under the page on “Our Charter” of the following webpage: nghiepdoangiaochuc.net.
Learning from others are always such an enriching experience for the teachers themselves.
More to come on my next post,