Growing up in a poor rural community in Vietnam, Thuy Tran had little access to books. When a relative gave her a copy of Sunflower Magazine, she was inspired by the glimpse into the world beyond her village.
When she qualified as a teacher, Tran returned home determined to give others like herself the same experience. In her classroom, she introduced new rules about the use of smartphones, teaching her students how to use them to learn. Through the English language, she created opportunities to connect with people and ideas far away from the leaking classrooms her students were sitting in. This meant investing her own money in an internet connection and a computer to get the students online.
In 2016, she led them on a challenging journey to understand the use of pesticides by local farmers. The harmful chemicals were widely used, despite known links to cancer, which affects people in the village. Tran worked with her students to research the chemicals, and interview the farmers who use them. They devised alternative growing methods to reduce dependency on pesticides, and educated themselves and their neighbours about the dangers.
The impact of this project went far beyond the village. Tran and her students linked up with students in Japan and Egypt. They were encouraged to undertake their own projects about the pesticides being used in their local areas.
It is not only the children who attend the village school who benefit from Tran’s passion for education. When she started Grade 1, she witnessed her teachers visiting her parents because her older brother had been taken out of school. She was determined lack of funds would not stop other children in her village from learning. She persuaded her parents to sacrifice some of their valuable farming land to build a community learning space.
The Sunflower Library is free for everyone in the village to use. Tran donated her own books for others to borrow. She has set up an internet connection, and provides free classes to the poorest children in her community. The students benefit from the techniques she uses in the classroom. They too are connecting with experts and peers around the world. In this way they begin to see themselves as having the potential to improve their lives and community.
The impact of her teaching is evident in her students’ exam grades, which are above the national average. Her students have won prizes in national and international competitions, including the English Contest for Hung Yen Excellent Students and the English Olympics. 60% continue their higher education.
Tran coordinates a network of educators in Vietnam who share ideas and innovations, and has twice been a presenter at the international VietTESOL conference. She has received a number of awards for her work, including 2nd prize in the Vietnam Innovative Teacher contest, 2016. She was selected to represent Vietnam at the global Education Exchange in Toronto in 2017 and won the overall prize for innovative use of technology.