COVID has disrupted the lives of each one of us – with the impact for some being huge and minimal for others. Imagine that COVID is the ocean – all of us have sailed on it, however, the journey has not been the same for all. For some people and some countries, they have made the journey on a cruise ship, bobbing around a little but mainly staying steady. For others they have tried to make the journey on a little sailboat and have tried to travel through the COVID ocean in a straight line but instead been tossed from side to side, shipwrecked and may now only be clinging to the edges of a broken boat.
In relation to the rest of the world, Vietnam has weathered the storm in a cruise ship. It escaped the severe pressures, worries and restrictions that many have faced, with only a few weeks of true lockdown and severe restrictions, with the rest of the time being limited to sudden outbreaks that temporarily disrupted daily life.
However, in relation to TEFL teachers, COVID has had a huge impact. This is due to the fact that as soon as COVID was given pandemic status, Vietnam closed its borders. Initially, this meant that there was no entrance or exit, so understandably teachers felt concerned – uncertain of the future and feeling a sense of desperation and isolation.
As a result, as soon as there were flights out of the country there was a huge exodus of TEFL teachers, meaning that the job market was wonderful for the teachers left behind. Suddenly teachers were able to get the job they had always dreamed of and the previous restriction of a lack of experience and qualifications was no longer were vital.
This equilibrium lasted for a long while, TEFL teachers initially being content in their new elevated postings, ever hopeful that COVID was a temporary situation and that although they had not been able to get home for the summer this year, they were able to hang on for next year.
As time and COVID has continued, however, the situation has slowly changed. The realisation that COVID is not the temporary new state as initially thought has dawned on TEFL teachers and as a result, the prospect of another summer and another Christmas not going home again has proven too difficult for many. This has resulted in another mass exodus of TEFL teachers who felt the need to reconnect with their home country, family, and friends once again.
In contrast to the first mass exodus which had minimal impact on both TEFL teachers, schools and language centres, this second mass exodus due to COVID has had a huge impact on the country. Suddenly, Vietnam had a countrywide shortage of teachers in general – for all ages, subjects and both local and international schools. This has resulted in many schools asking current teachers to double up and many classes having only supply teachers or sometimes no one at all.
Although not impossible, the task of getting new teachers into the country has been a long and complicated process. Only those who are deemed “experts ” are allowed to board a plane into the country and thus there is a need for those entering to have both experience and qualifications and even those who do qualify found that the process could take up to six months.
Upon arrival, all teachers required a two-week quarantine process in an allocated hotel, meaning that for many, they were encountering a lot of expenses prior to even starting work and naturally the prospect of working in Vietnam was less appealing.
Unfortunately, despite a lack of teachers within the country, in recent months the government has introduced an English proficiency test. This is to ensure that a basic standard of English is delivered by English teachers and is compulsory for all teachers except for those from the United Kingdom and Ireland as well as the United States. Although the test can be taken multiple times, a working visa cannot be issued until the test is passed. This means that in theory that although a teacher has passed all requirements to enter into the country and gone through the two-week quarantine if the test is failed then they are unable to get the working visa. This would then result in a wait for the next test (approximately a month later) and uncertainty whilst waiting for the retest.
All of these components have meant that currently TEL teachers are in great demand in Vietnam – except news for those planning to come or those already in the country but not so good for the language schools and centres and of course the students themselves who often times now have to go without.