Host: Hello, and welcome to the second episode of The Art of Learning podcast. In this series, we’ll be speaking to experts based in Asia about new techniques to enhance English language learning. Today, we’re talking to an educator in Vietnam who’s responsible for helping students gain the essential language and vocational skills they need to progress in their education and careers. Lien, thanks so much for joining us and making the time. Let’s introduce you to our listeners. Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your teaching role in Vietnam?
Lien: Hello everyone. My name is Lien. I’m the Deputy Director of BTEC program from the American Polytechnic College. I’m so excited today to share with you guys all about our stories – how we do it in Vietnam to help the students to achieve academic development and also well prepare for their future career.
Host: We’re happy to have you, Lien. And just a note to our listeners that since you’re dialing in from Hồ Chí Minh, which is very famous for its hustle and bustle, there might be a little bit of extra background noise. So, Lien, let’s kick off with the look at your institution – the American Polytechnic Centre. Can you paint a picture for us of your campus and the different kinds of courses you have on offer?
Lien: We are the college so we have two main programmes on the students. And on the programmes, we really focus on the career development. It means it’s not just the knowledge, but the skill. We’ve two programmes in our college – the national programme, where students learn 100% in local language and they do a lot of field trips to really explore what they need to do and prepare for their future. We really base on the demand from the industry. Every year, we try to have students to go out more on the field trips and have industry experts to step up and share with students to well prepare for what’s right. Actually, after they graduate, they can jump in the market and do the work effectively. And of course, for the international programme, we are so proud that we have the BTEC program, and we certify with three main majors. The first one is business, which we focus on two main pathways right now - Marketing and Human Resource Development. The second one is Hospitality Management, because in Vietnam our tourism is developed, and a lot of foreigners come up and we try to develop the customer-oriented and hospitality service for our students to really have a career development. And the last one is Art and Design. It really innovates students to come up with a lot of projects.
Host: Lien, you mentioned there’s real demand for practical skills - you have field trips, you are looking at customer service. And there’s growing demand across Southeast Asia for a more hands-on approach to learning. Can you explain why practical English language courses and qualifications are really important in a market like Vietnam?
Lien: Currently, a lot of global GDP is switch to Vietnam and other Asian countries, and we have a lot of opportunities. The staff and the employees are really young professionals. But they have to learn, they have to have the English ability to explore their career development. Because the Gen Z generation are different from the previous generations. They have their personal lives, more critical thinking. It’s not easy to follow the lecturers and what they say. They have to step in, they have to do and explore and say that “Wow, it’s the right way to do it” and customise their own way of learning. So, the hands-on for us is really essential for the market developing countries in Asia like Vietnam. And the government strongly supports it as well. It’s really essential for the students to not just look, see, learn but also put their hands on that and really do it, learn from mistakes as well and then they get better.
Host: Absolutely. I like the idea of look, see, learning and knowing your mistakes. And you spoke earlier about the variety of BTEC qualification your college offers, including marketing and travel and tourism. For people who aren’t totally familiar with the programme, can you explain why the BTEC stands out in terms of the skills and knowledge it provides learners with?
Lien: So, when we mention about BTEC, most of us, top of mind, will think about technology, really technical, so boring to learn, something like that. But honestly, frequently, we have a diverse area for students to explore. It’s not just about the knowledge and skills, but also the attitude that the students may get when they get in the BTEC programme. So, for the knowledge, it takes really strong academic learning because we know we are supported by Pearson, one of the biggest publishers in the world. Every year, Pearson come up and ID all of the assignments to make sure that we follow the academic criteria. So, it’s really essential that we don’t just learn, but we have someone to make sure that we do it right, the academic development. The second one is updated case study. I myself learnt a lot and explore the results from Pearson and BTEC. We have their case studies from all over the world and we learn a lot, not just from success stories, but also failure. And then the last one, it really demands learning outcomes… It has really good learning outcomes and then we have to customise and do the assignment. And also, we listen to the industry. What we do in our campus, we really focus on how students can step in, then go out and explore what the markets really are. For example, in hospitality, like I said at the very beginning, the students go out and explore how five-star hotels serve the customers and then come back to the classroom. We also have the practical classroom for them, where they can prepare the food and serving like a five-star hotel.
Host: And how important is it to have that collaboration and guidance from Pearson when creating and teaching your BTEC programme?
Lien: I keep an eye on updated information, which I get every month or every week somehow. For every updated program, Pearson has a clear guideline and suggestions for us. Before every session, we’re also well-prepared for what the assignments… the student assignment…and also some evidence to make sure that our students learn theory but also make it work in the industry as well. Pearson’s guidelines support us to follow and the process is so transparent. We have a really good guideline and suggestions. We just have a look and we can see everything available, just waiting for us to explore.
Host: And it would be interesting to hear about how you’ve included English language learning into your BTEC qualifications. Can you explain how you approached that and what process you went through?
Lien: Honestly, we just switched from learning English into working. Somehow we put a lot of percentage on academic learning, but we also put it in the context, which might not be for hospitality students, we also put in the context of industry, hotel, restaurants. And for business students, we also put in the context of if they have chosen marketing or HR career development. We will customise and bring them the reassurance for them to accept and also workshop and partner. We try to improve our partner. We have MOU with local partner and we try to develop our partner that students can step in and learn in a real-life environment. For example, next month, we are going to have a field trip in Iceland. Have you been there, Sara?
Host: No, I haven’t actually.
Lien: It’s really beautiful in Iceland. We have a lot of five-star hotels out there. We have MOU with one five-star hotel there. Last semester, the students will go there and work for a three-month-internship, so the students also have to their skill but also their English ability because a lot of customers are foreigners.
Host: Those field trips and internships sound very exciting, very cool for the students. And what feedback do you get from the students when you put them in this program? I guess it’s a lot more hands-on and practical and exciting than they realised initially?
Lien: Even though they learnt a lot of theories and somehow, they have talk show, but when they have the full three-month internship or field trip or intern at those companies or some restaurants or hotels. What we are so happy is that the employers say that our students are well-prepared and they learn a lot. They’re proactive and commitment, and they really want our students to stay and work for them.
Host: From a teacher’s perspective, is it really rewarding for you and your colleagues when you hear companies say that they want your students and they have the best skills, that they’re productive and proactive? Those are great endorsements for your students, really.
Lien: Yes, for sure. Even though it’s really challenging at the beginning. Because you may know that, if we want to put our students outside for field trips or MOU with partners there are a lot of stuff to prepare, not only for our students but also the procedure, the process and other stuff as well. Somehow our lecturers are so good, especially at the time, and then field trip and internship. But then we see the reward. We just want to say that education – if you want to do it right, it’s really challenging but it’s rewarding. So, our BTEC department try our best to have a really project-based learning, balance between the students, the lecturer and the industry.
Host: Well, it sounds like you have a very successful and well-rounded BTEC programme in place. We’ll have other teachers who’re listening and want to follow your example. What advice or guidance would you give them on creating a BTEC program like yours?
Lien: One thing that we all know that we have to convert to more blended learning for online classroom because COVID-19 affects us a lot and the second term will be more serious than the first one. So, besides what we follow in Pearson’s guidelines and suggestions, it’s really clear, we just follow and explore. Of course, they will get a lot of challenges so far because when they switch to online classroom, it’s not like direct classroom. We need to support them – how to do the assignments, Turnitin, Google, stuff like that, especially the first-year students. We have to be in there, support them, (provide) guidelines for them. We also think about matching more experts from industry to step up share. A lot of experts are willing to share with the students but we really have to (be) careful. We really have to have very clear guidelines, list out our learning outcomes. So when we have talk shows, we have industry professionals, it has to match to our learning outcomes and we should listen to the students. The students are going to be so much different. Like I said, Gen Z, they’re so much different. But they have a lot of energy and if we can explore, we can know them and understand them, we can support them better and make the programme successful. It’s not just throughout our learning process on our campus, but also there are some students who step up in international programme. There are three of our BTEC alumni… There are two of them studying with scholarships in Australia and one in the UK for art and design. So we just followed up, listened and built our alumni. We just love the students. We just follow Pearson’s direction, BTEC direction.
Host: It’s been a real pleasure speaking to you and very inspirational to hear about your commitment to preparing your students for the real world and also thinking about the next generation as well. Thank you for much for making the time and speaking to us.
Lien: Thank you, Miss Sara. It’s time for us to look back and review what have we done so far and it’s a really good foundation to form the next…well prepare for the next period, how we can balance between Pearson’s clear direction, academic learning, students’ expectation and also the industry as well.
Host: Well that’s all we have time for this episode. For more information, please visit the Art of Learning website at pearson.com/asia and click on “Insights & Ideas”. Thanks for listening and don’t forget to subscribe, and of course, please tune in next time.