The education of the heart

By Tran Nhan, Vietnam National University, Hanoi

In this blog post I would like to reflect on my working experience as a part-time Head of English at KOTO Vocational Training Center, Vietnam, a charity organization to train underprivileged youths to work in international hospitality industry. The center is considered the second home of all the youths here, the home where they can feel love, empathy and so much caring to compensate for all the misery they had to suffer during their childhood. The teachers here (both Vietnamese and international volunteers) are normally called “elder sisters/brothers” and we, sisters and brothers, do not just teach them the essential knowledge and skills for hospitality industry but more importantly, we assist them to change their identities from low self-esteem and inefficacy to confidence and success within an 18-month training programme. That seemingly incredible mission has been successfully achieved with the graduation of more than twenty classes so far. The secret behind this success, I firmly believe, lies in the educational philosophy of this center – KNOW ONE TEACH ONE – which reflects the education of the heart and mind mentioned by Sir Ken Robinson, Dalai Lama and Aristotle with his unequivocal saying: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

The educational environment here favors formative assessment.  The teachers have a good understanding of the learners’ living circumstances as well as the affective baggage they may bring to class so that they can be patient, empathetic and wholeheartedly accompany the learners to attainment in their study. Constant verbal feedback is given to the learners both inside and outside class regarding how they progress after each lesson. Weaker learners are boosted by a special tutoring programme with extra support from both Vietnamese and international volunteers. As the learners share the same dormitory, they are assigned to study in pair at home so that they can give and receive mutual support to/from their classmates and the senior learners. Learning and assessment here are similar to what Pryor and Crossouard (2008, p.4) refers to as “an inter-subjective social process, situated in, and accomplished by interaction between students and teachers.”

In this learning environment, more traits of divergent assessment can also be observed. Serious attempts are made at the beginning of the course to establish what the learners already knew, understood or could do via open and explicit dialogues as is mentioned by Pryor and Crossouard (2008, p.4). As most of the learners here start with no English, ‘helping questions’ rather than ‘testing questions,’ have been employed to guide them through the process of constructing new knowledge, correcting mistakes and prompting further engagement. The Know One Teach One culture also indicates that very little explicit ‘teaching’ is found here rather the learners can engage alongside with their “elder sisters and brothers” and peers in carrying out “tasks with high authenticity in the communities of practice in question” (Crossouard, 2009, p.78).

In a nutshell, what I have experienced in KOTO Vocational Training Center is rather contrastive to the traditional form of schools: it favours formative and divergent assessment rather than summative one and a process of co-inquiry rather than measurement (Hargreaves, 2005, p.218). There is a simple truth that I could realize, my heart sings every time I head for the Center.

Author biographical data: Tran Nhan is an IPhD candidate in Education and Communication at School of Education, Communication, and Language Sciences, Newcastle University, the United Kingdom. She works as a lecturer of English in the University of Foreign Languages and International Studies, Vietnam National University, Hanoi. Her research interests include assessment in higher education, thinking skills and learner and teacher identity.


Crossouard, B. (2009) ‘A sociocultural reflection on formative assessment and collaborative challenges in the states of Jersey’, Research Papers in Education, Vol. 24 (1), pp. 77-93.

Hargreaves, E. (2005) ‘Assessment for learning? Thinking outside the (black) box’, Cambridge Journal of Education, 35(2), 213–224.

Pryor, J. & Crossouard, B. (2008) ‘A socio-cultural theorisation of formative assessment’, Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 34, pp. 1-20.

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