We started the first day of work in the Year of the Ox when the third wave of COVID-19 was still disrupting the new normal in Vietnam. For many of us, this first day of work would not be a traditional one, where colleagues gather and offer well wishes for a new year of hopes, peace, and prosperity. For teachers and students in many places, the first day of school would be a virtual one instead of the usual classroom that they were familiar with.
The journey of the Year of the Ox, or the second “COVID year” as some may call it, has started similarly to the same time last year, with social distancing, remote learning, and working from home. But rather than being confused or panicky, each of us faces this new challenge with composure and readiness.
Last year, our world was turned upside down by crises caused by the pandemic. It forged all of us as individuals and as a community to grow more resilient, to have extraordinary stamina when faced with adversity, as well as the ability to acclimate to bewildering circumstances. These qualities helped Vietnam successfully surf through the first two waves of outbreaks and passed the first “COVID year” as one of the rare silver linings. These qualities also fueled the fire for smaller communities like Fulbright to turn challenges into opportunities and rise stronger. And I believe that we will all get through the current and upcoming tough days with the same courageous spirit.
This third COVID-19 outbreak once again reminds us that we are living in a VUCA world, one characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. None of us can affirm when the pandemic would end, or how the world would come to accept and live with the idea that the virus might be here to stay. But no matter how many uncertainties the future holds, there is one thing that we can be certain about: old thinking, old ideologies, and old models will not be of help for us to survive in a completely different post-pandemic world. More than ever before, this is the time for us to reimagine our mission and our development strategy of every person, every organization, as well as keep searching for and experimenting with new, innovative solutions to create a better and more humane future.
For educational communities like Fulbright, the COVID-19 pandemic posed an aching question: How should education, especially higher education, prepare the students for a world of uncertainties? Nearly 5 years ago, Fulbright began the journey with the profound belief that 21st-century-education cannot be the extended version of 20th-century-education since the graduates will have to face job demands that never existed before, in a world so profoundly shaped by digital technology and automation. What has been happening is almost like a test for the mission that we were so set on from the very first day: reimagine higher education for students, for Vietnam, and for the future.
That is an education with transformative core values, aiming to nurture foundational skills, critical thinking, and lifelong learning ability. That is an educational environment where the questions are more important than the answers, where all ideas are valued, where every student is to freely explore and progress to the best version of themselves.
Regardless of the classroom setting, whether that be a physical one by the Crescent lake or virtually online, students are always encouraged and challenged to think, pique curiosity, ask questions, and creatively strive to answer them. Only then, when today’s students graduate and enter life, they would not be overwhelmed and frazzled chasing the ever-changing tomorrow’s world.
In this journey, we are not alone. More and more individuals, organizations, and institutions share Fulbright’s vision and mission for 21st-century-education. Innovations in pedagogical approaches and in teaching programs are taking place all around us. We deeply believe that any dedicated individual and organization can join hands and co-create a better education for the future.
Wishing you a peaceful new year, fueled with the strength of resilience to overcome these challenging days.
Dam Bich Thuy,