On behalf of the Party and Government, I inquire after your health — cadres and mass education fighters — and congratulate the mass education service on its achievements during the first six months of the year. Over the past six months, 2,100,000 persons attended classes. This is a great achievement. Formerly, in the imperialist and feudal days, over 90 per cent of our population were illiterate. Later, the late Mr. Nguyen Van To and a number of progressive people worked for the popularisation of the national script. They made great efforts but only 5,000 persons per year went to classes. In the first six months of this year, there were over two million pupils. This is a great achievement, but we should not consider it as sufficient, we should make further efforts and avoid self-conceit and complacency.
After seven days of discussion and exchange of experiences, you are now probably more experienced than I am. But I would like to contribute a number of my own experiences.
1) In order to wipe out illiteracy among the great masses, where the overwhelming majority are peasants, the education movement should be a mass movement. We should stand close to the masses, discuss with them, apply forms and methods suitable to their life, and rely upon them to promote the movement.
Formerly, a number of other cadres and I carried out clandestine revolutionary activities in Cao Bang. The majority of our compatriots there were Nung, Man, and Tho, who knew little Vietnamese, lived scattered in the mountains far from one another, and were busy with their work and both teaching and studying had to be done in secret. We carried out mass education in these difficult conditions, but we succeeded. The cadres drafted a plan, in consultation with our compatriots, and the latter told them what to do. The literate taught the illiterate, those who knew much taught those who knew little.
Classes were run in caves; each village sent a person to study for a few days, then he went back and taught his co-villagers When his knowledge was exhausted he returned to the class and learned some more. While teaching others, the teachers also learned for themselves. Such was the method we adopted for the mass education work and for its development into a movement.
At that time, in spite of the enemy restrictions and continuous persecutions, our compatriots were very studious, women and children being more studious than men. At present, on my visits to the classes, I also find that women and children are more numerous than men. Many men have not attended classes yet. There were no classes or schools then; people who went weeding or gathering vegetables appointed a place and went there to teach one another. Buffalo boys gathered at a certain spot and learned from one another. Cadres going to the fields to work were often stopped by the villagers and asked to hear them recite lessons; if the lessons were wrongly read out, the cadres would correct them; if they had been well learned, the cadres would be asked to give a new lesson.
Workers and peasants have a lot of work to do. If the method of teaching is not suitable to the learners, to their work and mode of life, if we expect classes provided with tables and benches, we cannot be successful. The organization of teaching should be in accordance with the living conditions of the learners, then the movement will last and bear good results. Our compatriots are still poor and cannot afford paper and pens, therefore a small pocket exercise-book is enough for each person. Reading and writing exercises can be done anywhere, using charcoal, the ground or banana leaves as pens and paper. Clandestine cadres were to teach and make one person literate every three months. At that time, there was no assistance from the Government, no Ministry, or department in charge of educational problems, but in such precarious conditions, the movement kept developing, like oil spreading, the literate teaching the illiterate.
In studying like in teaching, the youth is the main force of the mass education movement. Everywhere, we should make the youth understand this task. In teaching as well as in studying the youth must always be in the van.
2) Mass education work is also teaching work, but not in schools or classes provided with lamps and books as in general schools. It is a wide, complicated, and self- sufficient movement. General schools are divided into first, second, third, and fourth forms, but in mass education, there are students of all kinds, the young, the old, some know much, others Just a little, some assimilate quickly, others slowly, therefore this is a hard task which requires much patience and effort. The fear of difficulties and hardships is not admissible in mass education. Sometimes, we have to come and teach a mother of many children at her own house. With those aged people who are reluctant to attend classes, we should patiently convince them to do so or sometimes come and teach them in their own houses. In order to wipe out illiteracy from among the people, industriousness is indispensable, bureaucratism and ordering about are impossible.
The work is inconvenient and hard, and gives no fame at all. In the Resistance war, if we succeeded in killing many of the enemy we could become model fighters or heroes; working in factories, if we make many innovations or surpass the production target, we become also outstanding workers or labour heroes. Mass education work though not giving us fame, nor being a well-sounding job, is however very glorious. We should not stand in one place and wish for another one; we should not nourish the wrong intention of giving up mass education work and entering a technical school, or teaching in a general school or taking another profession.
In social life there are many professions, a division of work is therefore inevitable. I do one work, you take up another. Mass education work is an important one, having a great bearing on the nation and society, and also on the building of our Fatherland. Although not a well sounding, famous or outstanding job which makes one become a hero, it is really a very important one. A person who is now a mass education worker should refrain from the desire of assuming another profession.
3) Mass education work is also placed under leadership. We have the Ministry, the Department, the Zonal and the Provincial services. To lead is not to sit and write office notes at the desk. In the Resistance time, there were cadres who could draft a good programme for secondary education but were unable to take charge of a mass education class because they were always in the office. The leaders should closely unite with and assist the cadres to overcome difficulties; bureaucratism and ordering about are to be avoided. In any work, close connection with the people is essential, mass education services at all levels should correct their own mistakes if any, and learn from the exprience of others.
4) Formerly, being poor, workers and peasants could not send their children to school; only a small number of children could attend class, the majority of these were from well-to-do families which had enough food to eat. In the countryside, only the children of landlords and rich peasants could go to school. Some cadres put the question as to whether the children of landlords and rich peasants should be allowed to teach in a mass education class. This is posing the question incorrectly. Any youth, male or female, is given this job if he or she is good, otherwise the work will not be entrusted to them. A worthy young person who does not approve his or her parents’ exploitations and does not side with them to act against the people, will be accepted as a teacher in a mass education class. If he or she has committed serious faults, the Job will not be given to them, either in mass education work or any other works. If a certain young person whose parents are guilty landlords, does not follow his or her parents, he or she is not guilty and can maintain citizenship rights like other young people. He or she can attend classes or take part in public work or join people’s organizations. This point should be well understood and correctly applied by you who live in the countryside.
5) Mass education work, though apparently not heroic, can be of a very great service to the nation if it can wipe out illiteracy among the people in three years. Our country would be proud of having rapidly eliminated illiteracy. In so-called civilized countries such as the U.S.A., Great Britain and France, there are still some illiterate people. To wipe out illiteracy in two or three years is a very great victory. We should realize this and make further efforts. By so doing, it will not be this young man or that young woman who becomes a hero, but all cadres and teachers working for mass education will be heroes; and collective heroes are all the better.
If illiteracy is wiped out in three years, new tasks are set for the Government, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Culture; you too, you will be faced with new tasks. It does not mean when everybody knows how to read and write, you will have fulfilled your tasks and you may rest or take up another work.
Illiterate people should learn to become literate. When they have learned to read, they should push further in their studies. Literate people will fall into illiteracy again if they have no reading materials. The Government and the Ministry of Education have therefore the task of furnishing books and newspapers suited to the standards of these readers.
You have the task of helping our illiterate compatriots to become literate, then to push forward their studies. So you yourselves should push forward your studies in order to be able to teach at a higher level. Our nation goes forward, the cadres should also go forward. They should march in the lead in order to ensure the continuous progress of the nation.
To conclude, the Party and the Government will reward such communes as wipe out illiteracy first in a district, such districts as can do so in a province, and such provinces as can do so in the whole country.
If you want to be rewarded, you should make efforts. Making efforts does not mean issuing order and compelling people to come and study, or to force them to study beyond their capacities; you should be industrious, and make efforts in accordance with the mass-line.
Our compatriots are very studious, we have experiences of this. If our cadres endeavour to enrich their experiences, exchange their views, and discuss matters with one another, the work will certainly be successful.
I present you with 15 remembrance insignia as rewards to those cadres who have obtained good achievements.
Source: Selected Works of Ho Chi Minh Vol. 4