IEEE Works With Vietnam to Advance Its STEAM Curriculum

Smart Village program partners with ON Semiconductor and Nam Can Tho University

12 October 2018

Vietnam is set to soar. The predominantly agricultural country is quickly transitioning to one whose focus includes industry. Its economy grew nearly 7 percent in 2017, a six-year high, according to The Business Times. By 2020, the government plans to convert 90 percent of its economy into one that is cashless. It’s also working to develop Can Tho, Danang, Hanoi, and its other metropolises into smart cities.

For those efforts to succeed, the country’s leaders know, it’s essential to provide Vietnam’s youngsters—living in both rural and urban areas—with a quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, with an emphasis on arts and language, known as STEAM.

Nam Can Tho University this year launched the Bending Bamboo program. It’s a collaboration of educators, industry representatives, climate and ecosystem scientists, and development practitioners to develop Vietnamese- and English-language STEAM curricula focusing on issues of immediate concern to the country. That includes reliable energy, urban-rural connectivity, sustainable development, and climate change. The World Bank has identified Vietnam as one of five countries most likely to be affected by climate change.

Bending Bamboo aligns with two objectives of Vietnam’s government. The first is to incorporate the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals into public-school curricula by 2025. The second is to encourage students be fluent in English as well as Vietnamese by 2030.

Those initiatives will depend on the linguistic competence and interdisciplinary confidence of the country’s English-language teachers.

Helping with the effort are IEEE Smart Village and ON Semiconductor, a global company that is seeking energy-efficient innovations and empowering customers to reduce their energy use. The Phoenix-based company employs more than 2,650 people at its manufacturing plant in Bien Hoa, in the Dong Nai province.

IEEE Smart Village is an IEEE Foundation priority initiative whose mission is to help empower communities through education and the creation of sustainable, affordable, locally owned entrepreneurial energy businesses.

“IEEE Smart Village supports this educational innovation as part of its three-pillar approach to community development,” says IEEE Member Dan Wessner, professor of international development at Future Generations University, an institution whose mission is the cultivation of community leaders worldwide. Wessner is a Smart Village volunteer.

The two organizations are working with Nam Can Tho University, a private school in southern Vietnam. Its rector, Professor Vo Tong Xuan, an expert in education, sustainable development, and climate change, has helped build four universities and a Montessori school in Vietnam. He also is director of the Vietnam Africa Agricultural Development Co. and conducts research and development on rice production in seven African countries. He is known as “Dr. Rice” among farmers for his work on sustainable systems.

In collaboration with the university and IEEE Smart Village, ON Semiconductor contributed US $102,000 on 3 July toward a multiyear, multifaceted Bending Bamboo platform to aid secondary school teachers across Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Teachers who are trained in the process can extend the reach of Bending Bamboo from Can Tho to surrounding provinces and rural areas.


A core group of Vietnamese English-language instructors, IEEE Smart Village volunteers, development and ecosystem experts, and ON Semiconductor employees is developing the STEAM materials for an initial group of high school teachers in Can Tho. The teacher-leaders then will disseminate the curriculum through workshops, online forums, Global Classrooms, flip-books, and an electronic repository of “best lessons” from collaborating educators, according to Wessner.

A growing number of teacher-leaders facilitate weekly online forums for high school students, even as they work full time as high school instructors and study part time as graduate students, specializing in linguistic development education.

The Bending Bamboo curriculum is being developed, written, and published by a collaboration of high school teachers and development practitioners. The group shares its process and outcomes among junior high school and elementary schools, reaching from Can Tho to the rest of the Mekong Delta, which has more than 10,000 public-school English teachers who serve 6 million students, Wessner says.


Several Vietnamese coordinators of Bending Bamboo met in August with Wessner and representatives from ON Semiconductor at the company’s manufacturing facility in Bien Hoa.

ON Semiconductor’s executive Keenan Evans said his company values the education of its employees and the well-being of their families.

“It is a common occurrence for rural families in Vietnam and other parts of the developing world to rely on the income from family members with higher earning potential and more education who have moved to cities and work in factories,” Wessner says. “Bending Bamboo strengthens this type of shared rural-to-urban resource.”

In July and August the Bending Bamboo team facilitated workshops for rural and urban high school English teachers, agriculture leaders, engineers, and health science students.

Such events are important, Wessner says, because they grow the competence and confidence of Vietnamese teacher-leaders, who in turn elevate the country’s applied knowledge and skills for sustainable and resilient living.  That is essential for youths, technicians, engineers, farmers, and teachers alike, he says.

Visit the IEEE Smart Village website to learn about other projects, how to volunteer, or donate.

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