Lessons From 3 Social Distancing Campaigns in Vietnam: How Learning Through Play Contributed to Avert a Learning Crisis


Huong Ha Thi Thu

Lessons From 3 Social Distancing Campaigns in Vietnam: How Learning Through Play Contributed to Avert a Learning Crisis


4 min read

Fighting COVID, dragon-style

Vietnam was one of the first countries to detect local COVID-19 cases in January 2020. The country took decisive action. With remarkable success: in the first 15 months, less than 3000 COVID-19 cases were detected in this country of 98 million citizens – equal to the daily rate of Belgium early 2021.

As part of the social distancing strategy, schools were closed nationwide from February to May 2020. Later, millions of children had to stay at home during periods of 6 to 17 weeks of provincial social distancing campaigns.

With the support of The LEGO Foundation, VVOB set up support mechanisms to prevent a major learning crisis, particularly for the young learners transitioning into primary school. This was not an easy feat in a very traditional, teacher-centred learning system. An online repository and national televised good practice clips reached millions of children, parents and teachers.

Here are 3 lessons from 3 social distancing campaigns in Vietnam.

1. Adults need convincing that learning does not only happen at school

Children learn any time of day, during any activity they engage in. Schools make such learning systematic and intentional but do not have the monopoly over learning. This may seem obvious, but in many countries teaching at school is disconnected from the daily lives of the pupils. It is not different in Vietnam: the teacher and school are the centre of learning – also in the minds of the parents.

The prolonged periods of school closures uncovered not only the limited preparedness of teachers to pivot to remote teaching but also the restricted perception in society about where and how learning happens.

“While parents were concerned that without school the children were not learning, children were going out to fly kites, play hopscotch or chess. We know that these are activities that help them develop essential learning skills.”
– Nguyễn Thị Lan Hương, VVOB Strategic Education Advisor – iPLAY

Amidst the COVID crises, the Vietnamese government launched a long-planned new curriculum for primary education with the ambition to develop 21st century skills through a more diverse teaching practice. To contribute towards the achievement of these ambitions, VVOB – Education for Development partnered with the Ministry of Education and Training to introduce learning through play in the daily class practice and build a bridge to the home environment.

2. Learning through play is often misunderstood

In response to the acute need to help children continue their learning at home, VVOB launched a nationwide televised and online campaign covering good practices on learning through play in which teachers, parents (some of them online influencers) and education experts testify about the importance of learning through play to process complex information, to build not only knowledge but also social skills. And all of this in a much more playful way.

“The slogan “learning while playing – playing while learning” is popular in Vietnam, but teachers don’t know how to organize such activities systematically and parents tend to make an absolute distinction between learning and playing. There is limited understanding that learning also happens during play.”
– Associate Prof. Pho Duc Hoa _ Primary education expert Hanoi National University

In a traditional education system, it is challenging for educators and parents alike to see how playful activities can help children to develop life skills and acquire a deeper understanding of serious academic knowledge.

3. Online platforms are no magic wand

An initial reaction of many professionals in the education sector when in-person activities are not possible, is to pivot to web-based alternatives. While in Vietnam a vast majority of adults have access to the internet thanks to wide 4G coverage and cheap data, few use it for other purposes than social media and online shopping. The internet has not yet been embraced as a place where serious things, such as learning, happen.

Therefore, a mix of media channels must be used and complemented as soon as possible with small-scale in-person activities. A series of 15 clips showing good practices of learning through play at home and at school were broadcast on national television. A talk show on the education channel and a gala-event live-streamed across social media platforms followed to support a competition that triggered parents and teachers to share their good practices. All this now forms the backbone of an online library.

Continuing these initiatives becomes even more relevant now that a 4th wave of COVID19 has hit Vietnam and other South-East Asian countries.

“To avoid that a new learning crisis emerges as an unintended consequence of the preventive strategies, VVOB will continue to promote learning through play at school and at home so that learning never stops in these foundational years in a child’s life.”
– Karolina Rutkowska, VVOB Country Programmes Manager Vietnam


A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training


Huong Ha Thi Thu

Education Manager, VVOB

Ha Huong is an international development professional focused on South-East Asia with a background in innovative financing in rural sanitation and water supply, education, health and project management in Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR. She gained a Master’s degree in Environment and Sustainability. Currently, Ha Huong serves as Education Manager for VVOB – education for development in Vietnam. In her role, she is responsible for overall matters related to education projects in the country. Ha Huong joined VVOB out of the strong belief that the organisation’s approach to supporting teachers and school leaders ensures the right to quality education for all learners.

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