ENGLISH language schools in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, formerly Saigon) are now proliferating so fast that its private English as a Foreign Language (EFL) sector is ‘out of control,’ according the English language Vietnam news website Vietnam Net Bridge. Nguyen Van Cuong, of the city’s Education and Training Department says that there are now 474 registered private EFL schools under its supervision, and that ‘the task of controlling the quality of English education centres in HCM City is quite a challenge.’
Setting up an ‘international centre’ teaching EFL under an ‘international’-sounding brand name is relatively cheap, and Mr Cuong said that it’s possible with an investment of as little as 2 million dong (£78) in a prime location. Opening another branch of an existing school requires much less bureaucracy than setting up a new school from scratch, so that most schools have two or three branches in the city, with some schools operating as many as 20 branches.
Operating multiple branches means that chain schools can send their existing teachers into several schools, rather than having to spend money on hiring new teachers. Students sign up in the expectation of being taught by ‘highly qualified native-speaking teachers’ only to find that these are often backpackers who are very thinly spread around many different branches of a school. One student complained to Vietnam Net Bridge that he had signed up on the promise of four days a week out of five, but now he gets to be taught by a native speaker only once a week.
Other sharp practices in Ho Chi Minh City’s mushrooming private EFL sector include frequent unsubstantiated claims that schools’ certification is internationally recognised. And complaints about false advertising go beyond claims about native-speaker teachers. One school projected a ‘luxurious appearance’ to a student, named as Minh Nghia,’ when he came to enquire about enrolling, but put that student in ‘small and stuffy’ classrooms. A staff member at the centre gave assurances that his class would have a maximum of 20 students, but the class turned out to have 30 students, with new students constantly added as they enrolled. "The class is too crowded and it’s really hard to listen to the teachers’ words,’ said Nghia.
A language centre director, speaking to Vietnam Net Bridge on condition of anonymity, said that ‘English centres owned by Vietnamese universities inside their campuses, which in the 1990s were very popular, and whose payments were only several 10,000 dong, (just under $4) can barely survive,’ as ‘low-cost English centres are now losing ground to the ones whose fees are in the millions of dong or even in US dollars,’ fuelled by a popular belief that teaching using a high proportion of native speaker teachers automatically translates into higher quality.