Akiko Sawamoto’s Research Project in Hanoi, Vietnam

Read about Akiko Sawamoto’s research on migrant education in Vietnam…

Research in Hanoi, Vietnam

By: Akiko Sawamoto, PhD Anthropology and Education, Teachers College

The project was a follow-up study of my long-term dissertation research in Vietnam, which was conducted from September 2008 to August 2010. The purpose of my dissertation study is to explore how migrant families with school-age children in Hanoi dynamically cope with their day-to-day and educational challenges within a set of constraints and opportunities set out by the market forces and governmental policies that affect urban-ward migration.

During the follow-up research I conducted September 12–31, 2013, I revisited the research sites and reconnected with the people who had participated in my research during my initial fieldwork to ascertain how the life conditions of migrant families have (or have not) changed over the last few years. The research was also intended to provide complementary data for my dissertation in order to support its analysis and discussions. These discussions include, but are not limited to, the potential and limitations of non-formal education as a vehicle for migrant children’s upward social mobility; the changing conditions of migrants’ everyday lives; their coping strategies and adaptations to poverty; and the implications of such conditions for social inequality and stratification in Vietnam’s transitional society.

During this period of follow-up research, I conducted interviews with my previous research participants (many of whom are unregistered migrants) in order to learn about how they deal with both continuing and new challenges in their daily lives. My questions were centered on how they build social relations in the city, maintain their ties with their extended families in their home village, and cope with challenges in times of difficulties. I also made a return visit to a “charity class,” a half-day basic education class offered to impoverished children without access to formal schooling. The class teaches basic literacy and arithmetic skills at the primary education level.

Alley home of impoverished migrant families.

Alley home of impoverished migrant families.

My interviews with migrant families shed light on how the level of their social participation in their area of residence continues to be marginal, if not non-existent. Not only does the lack of permanent residency in their current place of residence keep them from participating in social and recreational activities organized by the ward, they also have few social interactions outside of their small circle of migrant friends and acquaintances with similar socioeconomic backgrounds. The stigmatization of and bias towards migrants often surfaces in the conversations among non-migrant city residents, who are inclined to associate their migrant neighbors with those bringing social problems to the city, or “social evils” (te nan xa hoi), i.e., anti-social phenomena that jeopardize public order and security, such as crime, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, gambling, prostitution, vagrancy, human trafficking, and HIV/AIDS.

While migrant families keep ties with their extended families in their home village to varying degrees, the longer they migrate the less frequently they return to their home village or gather with people of the same place of origin who are also living in the city. Among the long-time migrants with children whom I interviewed, those who brought their children with them to the city return to their home village only for special occasions (such as for Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year); they also seldom send remittances to their relatives. Unlike seasonal migrants who often congregate with people from the same village in nha tro (temporary lodging houses whose rental fees are normally charged on a daily basis) or reside in the same neighborhood, long-time migrants prefer to stay in low-cost rental accommodations on their own. While these long-timers are loosely connected with people of the same place of origin who are also living in the city, they see each other only occasionally unless they work in the same neighborhood as street sellers, motorbike drivers, etc. Beyond their immediately family, they rarely borrow or lend money among themselves. A handful of migrants said that they had turned to “loan sharks” in the past, but these days even those lenders are reluctant to offer loans because a large number of migrants repudiate their debt or are simply incapable of repaying their loans.

A major change observed in my follow-up study was the educational environment for migrant children whose access to formal education was once rather limited. My return visit to the charity class revealed that not only did the funding from an NGO discontinue due to the project reaching completion in December 2012, but the enrollment of students had dropped by almost 60% since 2010. At the end of the 2009–2010 school year, there were 34 students; at the time of my follow-up visit in the summer of 2013, there were only 14 students. Previously, the class was located in a migrant-concentrated residential neighborhood near the city center; it is now being held in a classroom of a public junior high school (which has been offering the charity class to children without public primary education since 1988), which is located about 5 km away from its previous site. Several reasons were given by the charity class teacher and the founder of the class for the reduced enrollment numbers. First, the relocation of the class made it impossible for students who had been commuting on foot and had had no means of transportation, such as a bicycle or a parent who could take them to and from school by motorbike, to attend the class. Second, since the peak period of student enrollment in the late 1990s and early 2000s – which coincided with a surge of migrant street children coming from rural villages in neighboring provinces to the center of Hanoi city – the number of students has continued to decrease, which may be an indication of a declining demand for the class.

Main road that runs adjacent to migrant-concentrated neighborhoods

Main road that runs adjacent to migrant-concentrated neighborhoods

While it is not easy to determine the extent to which the decreased enrollment numbers in the charity class is due to the reduction of demand for charity classes in general or to the increasing access to public schooling among migrant and impoverished children, the availability of funding sources from different organizations for disadvantaged children and a relaxation of admission policies in some public schools might partially explain why the class is shrinking. Since the discontinuation of project funding from the aforementioned NGO, students are no longer provided with school essentials (such as textbooks, stationery, and school bags) by the school; however, the class is still offered free of charge. Nevertheless, some students receive funding from outside aid organizations, which now provide financial support for children to buy their school materials.

Migrant children who were frequently barred from formal education because of their lack of a birth certificate and/or permanent residency in the current place of residence appear to have a better chance of getting into local public schools now than they did when I first conducted research in Vietnam between 2008 and 2010. Several street children whom I interviewed during my previous fieldwork (and who were going to the charity class at the time) are now attending a public primary school full-time with administrative and financial support from a different NGO. This NGO also helped their family to move to a suburb of Hanoi where living costs are lower but which is still within commuting distance for the parents to travel to the city center to peddle. Similarly, an interview with a ward administrative officer indicated an increased presence of migrant children in some public schools of Hanoi. It has been customary for children without permanent residency to pay higher admission fees to enroll in local public schools. Although such an option is not affordable for many migrant parents with little disposable income, some parents can afford and are willing to pay for the extra fees. With an eye toward increasing sources of school funding, some public schools have started to offer admission to non-permanent residents more readily. After returning from the summer follow-up research, I am currently in the process of incorporating these new additional findings into my final dissertation draft, which should be completed by the end of spring 2014. Upon completion of my dissertation, I plan to present my research outcomes at conferences and in journals relating to the issues of migration and non-formal education. By doing so, I will seek ways to raise awareness in the public discourse, both within Vietnam and internationally, of how the concerns and needs of migrants could be better addressed in order for the country to achieve more socially inclusive development.


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