There is a faraway land where the entire country stops and gives thanks and respect to its teachers. This includes all university teachers. It’s a national holiday – Vietnamese Teachers’ Day – filled with celebrations and events, flowers, presents, singing and speeches about the importance of education.
Vietnamese aphorisms about teaching are repeated, such as Người ta không thể làm gì nếu không có giáo dục (One can do nothing without education). Aspirations are high for those considering their future professions. At the top of the list? The most noble of all professions. The Teacher.
This is not a fantasy, although for some in Australian higher education, it may sound like one. When I was in my 20s in Australia, I won my first teaching award. It was a lovely medal. When I proudly went back to my faculty office, a colleague, pointing to the medal, predicted “that teaching medal will be the millstone around your neck.” There was no ill-will intended, just gentle (if not jaded) advice that pursuing a career in teaching in Australian higher education is not considered a good career move. My Vietnamese university colleagues and students may well be astonished at such an observation.
Whilst it is a privilege to be the leader of an international university here in Vietnam and watch first hand this celebration of teaching, if I could add one thing to National Teachers’ Day, it would be to also celebrate learners.
Learning is, after all, not just about what the teacher says or does. It is, as John Biggs would say “what the learner does.” Learning is about understanding real-life problems and identifying solutions, where practical skills can be used in proper context and demonstrated through interactive experiences. Real learning is where learners apply their knowledge in ways which both incorporate thinking as well as performing aspects of learning. Well-designed learning affords an opportunity for learners to co-design and negotiate their learning pathways. Learning should also recognise the past experiences of learners, because existing knowledge is used as the basis of constructing new knowledge. Learning is all those chemicals firing in the learning brain. For a student, learning is hard work, and we should celebrate that too.
So, for those of you in higher education in Australia, consider yesterday was National Teachers’ Day in Vietnam and celebrate teaching and learning. Because, as the Vietnamese would say “One can do nothing without education”.