Vietnamese teacher stands alone against corruption
Last updated 12-31-08 at 12:08 p.m.
Viet Khoa Do
By Ben Stocking
The Associated Press
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — The thugs came after dark, as Viet Khoa
Do and his family were getting ready for bed.
He says they punched him, kicked him, stole his
camera, and terrified his wife and children.
Do, a high school math and geography teacher, thinks
the message was clear: Stop blowing the whistle
on school corruption — or
For several years, Do has been fighting the petty
bribery and cheating that plagues schools across Vietnam, where poorly
paid teachers and administrators squeeze money out of even poorer parents.
Vietnam’s leaders approved a sweeping anti-corruption law in
2005, but the implementation is uneven. The country still
ranks poorly on global corruption surveys, and
for ordinary Vietnamese who treasure education,
school corruption is perhaps the most infuriating of all.
Few dare to fight it, for fear of retaliation.
A slight, ordinary-looking man from a farming village, 40-year-old
Do made a dramatic entrance onto the national scene two years ago.
He videotaped students cheating on their high school graduation exams
while their teachers watched and did nothing. State-owned TV stations
played the tape repeatedly.
With TV cameras in tow, Vietnam’s education minister went to
Do’s house to hand him a certificate praising his courage. Do
appeared on Vietnam’s version of the Larry King show. The principal
of the Van Tao High School, where Do has taught since
2000, was transferred.
But back in his farming village of Van Hoa, about
15 miles outside Hanoi, Do got anything but a hero’s welcome.
Teachers and administrators resented the unflattering
spotlight. Even among parents and students, who stood
to gain most from Do’s efforts, few came to his defense.
“All the parents wanted was to get their children through school
and into jobs, even if they had to cheat to pass their exams,” Do
“The entire community has shunned me,” Do said. “They
harass me on the phone, they send me letters. They say I put my thirst
for fame ahead of their children’s welfare. Some of them even
threatened to kill me.”
Thinh Van Nam, 27, a teacher at the school, thinks
Do has brought his problems on himself.
“Khoa [Do] says we isolated him, but it is not true,” Nam
said. “When someone feels ostracized by his peers, he needs to
ask himself why.”
Matters escalated last month, when the four men came
to Do’s house — two of them guards at his school, according
to news reports. Police are still investigating.
Do has also run afoul with the new principal, Xuan
Trung Le, after sending a letter to national and
local officials alleging that Le imposed various
unfair fees to enrich school staff at parents’ expense.
One of Do’s biggest complaints is the “extra classes” implemented
at his school and others across the country, in which
teachers tutor students for money.
“If they don’t go, the teachers give them bad grades,” said
A teacher can triple a salary by packing students
into the sessions, which cost parents about $6 a
week — nearly
as much as they earn farming rice.
Principal Le did not respond to an interview request.
But he was quoted in the People’s Police newspaper saying enrollment
in the classes is voluntary.
Le reportedly said Do “did not always concentrate on his teaching
and follow the school regulations,” and “he used his camera
and recorder too much, so people did not feel comfortable
talking to him.”
One man defending the teacher is Van Thuc Vu, whose
son goes to the school. “He is raising his voice against these
absurd requirements imposed by the school,” he said.
“He is really brave,” said Xuan Dung Giang, a math teacher. “I
admire him for his courage and patience.”
Other schools have offered to hire Do.
“I thought we should support him,” said Van Nhu Cuong,
a Hanoi headmaster who tried to hire him. “We really need people
who dare to speak out.”
Do declined because the school is too far from his
His wife, Thi Nga Nguyen, worries about her husband’s crusade.
“This has caused us a lot of stress,” she said. “I
wish everyone would join the fight against corruption
so that wewouldn’t
be the odd ones out.”
No matter what happens, Do said, he won’t stop fighting to uphold
the ideals of honesty and integrity promoted by
the communist revolutionaries who freed Vietnam
from colonial rule.
“Many teachers are soiling the image of education,” he
said. “Corruption is a betrayal of communist ideology and of