Doctoral graduate launches one-of-a-kind kindergarten in Vietnam

Inspired by her PhD research, Hoa Pham launched AKO, the first kindergarten in Vietnam following a New Zealand educational approach. Hoa’s success was acknowledged at an alumni event in Ho Chi Minh City last year.

Hoa had the opportunity to share the concept of AKO Kindergarten with former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a New Zealand alumni event in Ho Chi Minh City in November 2022.

Hoa Pham has always been passionate about children and stories, with a background as an Early Childhood Education (ECE) lecturer and storytelling practitioner in Vietnam. She moved to New Zealand in 2017, driven to continue learning about children, gain international knowledge in the ECE field, and give her son educational experiences in a new country. Hoa enrolled in a PhD in Education, and focused her research on exploring young Vietnamese children’s identity construction and their everyday stories.

“I explored how young Vietnamese children author themselves in their ordinary narratives across home and early childhood education settings in Vietnam and Aotearoa New Zealand,” Hoa says.

During her PhD, Hoa discovered the Māori concept of ako, which recognises the knowledge that both teachers and learners bring to a classroom. This concept inspired Hoa to launch AKO Kindergarten back in Vietnam, the first kindergarten in Vietnam following the New Zealand Early Childhood Education Curriculum.

"After finishing my PhD, I wanted to open a zone where I could continue my dream of working and supporting young children as they are. Our slogan is ‘Where children are teachers’."

With this idea, we hope to inspire young minds to develop their paths of learning in their own ways.

Hoa Pham PhD in Education

Hoa’s career achievements were acknowledged at a New Zealand alumni event in Ho Chi Minh City in November 2022, hosted by Education New Zealand (ENZ) and New Zealand Embassy in Vietnam. During the event, Hoa was able to share the concept of AKO with visitors, including former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“The idea for my booth at the event was to introduce AKO as “a New Zealand corner of education in Hanoi, Vietnam.” says Hoa. “I was very proud and excited when sharing my interests in education and equity for young children and teachers with Jacinda Ardern,”

Reflecting on her time at the University of Auckland onstage at Alumni Night, Hoa shared that kindness was the main thing that stood out.

“I received a huge amount of kindness from New Zealand. My supervisor, Professor Jan Gaffney, always cares for me, both as a researcher and as a human being. The Marie Clay Literacy Trust provided me with a scholarship to sponsor my last year. Establishing AKO is my way to repay the kindness that I received.”