Education in Vietnam
Education in Vietnam is a state-run system of public and private education run by the Ministry of Education and Training. It is divided into five levels: preschool, primary school, secondary school, high school, and higher education. Formal education consists of twelve years of basic education. Basic education consists of five years of primary education, four years of intermediate education, and three years of secondary education. The majority of basic education students are enrolled on a half-day basis. The main education goal in Vietnam is "improving people's general knowledge, training quality human resources, and nurturing and fostering talent."
|Ministry of Education and Training|
|Minister||Phùng Xuân Nhạ|
|National education budget (2012)|
|Budget||6.3% of GDP|
|System type||Public, private|
|Literacy (2015 est.)|
Vietnam is known for its rigorous curriculum that is deemed competitive for students. Secondary education is one of the most significant social issues in the country: designated schools known as "High schools for the gifted" (Trường trung học phổ thông chuyên) are regarded as prestigious and often demand high entrance examination results. Higher education is also a fundamental cornerstone in Vietnamese society. Entrance to university is determined through the National High School Graduation Examination, whose results will be considered for evaluation. The higher the score is, the more prestigious the institution will be. Failure to attend university often leads to social stigma, as those who could not pass the Graduation Examination would be looked down upon by members of society.
With one of the highest GDP growth rates in Asia, Vietnam is attempting to improve its education system; in 2012, estimated national budget for education was 6.3%. In the last decade, Vietnamese public reception of the country's education system has been mixed. Citizens have been critical of the rigorous curriculum, which has led to serious social issues including depression, anxiety, and even increasing suicide rates. There have been comments from the public that schools should opt for a more flexible studying program, with less emphasis on paper tests and more focus on life skills development. In response to public opinion, the Ministry of Education and Training has come up with resolutions to reform the education system, which were met with both positive and negative feedback, leaving education reform still a controversial topic to date.
Types of educational establishments
Regarding ownership, as prescribed in Article 44 of Vietnam’s Education Law, there are four types of educational establishments:
- Public education establishments: established and monitored by the State. The State also nominates their administrators and decides staff quota. The State invests in infrastructure and allocates funding for their regular spending tasks.
- Semi-public educational establishments: set up by the State on the basis of mobilizing organizations and individuals in the society to jointly invest in infrastructure.
- People-founded educational establishments: Social or economic organizations apply for permission from the State to set up an institution with non-State budget capital.
- Private educational establishments: Individuals or groups of individuals apply for permission from the State to set up and invest in the institution by themselves.
In Vietnam, a school year is divided into two semesters: the first begins in late August and ends in December, while the second begins right after the first, which is about late January and lasts until the end of May.
|Secondary High school|
|University||Ages vary (usually 4 years)|
|College||Ages vary (usually 2 years)|
|Master||Ages vary (usually 2 years)|
|Ph.D||Ages vary (usually 2 years)|
Public kindergartens usually admit children ranging from 18 months to 5 years of age. Sometimes, four- or five-year-old children are taught the alphabet and basic arithmetic. This level of education is not compulsory and tends to be popular in major cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hai Phong, Can Tho and Vung Tau.
Children normally start primary education at the age of six. Education at this level lasts for 5 years and is compulsory for all children. The country's literacy rate is over 90%.
According to the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey 2006 of Vietnam’s General Statistics Office, 96% of six to 11-year-old children enrolled in primary school. However, there was still a significant disparity in the primary education completion rate among different ethnicity. While primary completion rate for Kinh students was 86%, the rate for ethnic minority children was only 61%.
The renovated primary education curriculum in Vietnam is divided into two phases as follows:
- Phase 1 includes Grades 1, 2 and 3 with 6 subjects: Vietnamese Language, Mathematics, Morality, Nature and Society, Arts and Physical Education.
- Phase 2 includes Grades 4 and 5 with 9 subjects: Vietnamese Language, Mathematics, Morality, Science, History, Geography, Basic Techniques, Music, Arts and Physical Education.
Lower secondary education
Lower secondary school (Vietnamese: trung học cơ sở) or Junior high school includes sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth grade. Until its abolition in 2006, students had to pass the Intermediate Graduation Examination (IGE) presented by the local Department of Education and Training to graduate. This educational level is homogeneous throughout most of the country, except in very remote provinces, which expect to popularize and standardize middle education within the next few years. Intermediate education is not compulsory in Vietnam.
The Lower Secondary Education’s weekly schedule includes the following subjects and activities: Vietnamese Language, Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, History, Geography, Civics, Foreign Language (most often English or French), Physical Education, Technology, Art, Music, Optional Subjects, Class Activities and School Activities, Vocational-oriented activities (3 periods per month in Grade 8 or in some cases, the summer between 7th and 8th Grade) and Extra-curricular activities (4 periods per month in all grades).in the end of year 8, student will participate in secondary vocational exam to earn extra-mark for the 10th grade examination.
The Technology subject aims to show the link between theory and practice. It includes three parts: home economics (in Grade 6), agriculture-forestry and aquaculture (in Grade 7), Industry (in Grade 8) and optional modules (in Grade 9).
High school education
Lower secondary school education (Vietnamese: trung học cơ sở) consists of grades six to nine, while high school or upper secondary school education (Vietnamese: trung học phổ thông) consists of grades ten to twelve. The IGE is a prerequisite entrance examination for high schooling. The IGE score determines the schools at which students are able to enroll. The higher the score, the more prestigious the school.
Middle and secondary curriculum
All subjects are compulsory for students
- Literature: mostly Vietnamese literature, occasionally combined with foreign literature including Chinese, French, American and Russian
- Chemistry (from year 8 onwards)
- Civics: generally consists of economics, philosophy (Marxism-Leninism), politics, law and ethics
- Foreign language: English is the predominant foreign language; French, Chinese, Russian, Japanese and German are taught at some specialized schools
- Technology: consists of Agriculture/Horticulture, Mechanics, Electronics, Design, etc.
- Information Technology: recently introduced, yet to be implemented in poorer regions. Students study basic programming in languages such as Pascal and C/C++
- Physical Education (P.E)
- Military education and training
Advanced classes consists of either:
- Natural sciences: Students follow an advanced curriculum (and different textbooks) in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology
- Social sciences: Students follow an advanced curriculum (and different textbooks) in literature, history, geography and foreign language
At the start of secondary school, students can enroll in Specialist Classes if they pass the class entrance exam, which usually consists of a Mathematics exam, a Literature exam, an English exam and an exam of the subject that the student wants to specialize in. The specialised subject can be any of the subjects listed above, except Technology, Physical Education and Civics. Students enrolled in these programs have a heavier workload than regular secondary school students. The workload varies from school to school, but grade 11 students are generally expected to study grade 12 courses concurrently. Other courses include university-level courses. Some schools go as far as requiring their students to finish secondary school by the end of grade 10.
Only prestigious schools offer these classes, and they have yet to be standardized.
High School Graduation Examination
All high school students in Vietnam are required to take the National High School Graduation Examination (Kỳ thi Trung học phổ thông quốc gia), which is administered by the Ministry of Education and Training, at the end of grade 12 to get a diploma called the High School Graduation Certificate (Bằng tốt nghiệp Trung học phổ thông). They still have to take the regular end-of-term examinations before taking the High School Graduation Examination.
The Ministry of Education and Training announced that for the graduation examination of 2017, five papers would be included: Mathematics, Literature, Foreign language, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences. Three papers are mandatory for all students: Mathematics, Literature, and Foreign language. Foreign language exam can be one of the following: English, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, or Russian. Apart from three mandatory papers, student must complete a fourth paper by choosing either natural sciences (a combination of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology) or Social Sciences (a combination of History, Geography, and Civic Education). In some cases, students can take both the Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and will choose the paper with the higher result to be evaluated.
University entrance is based on the scores achieved in the entrance examination. High school graduates need high scores to be admitted to universities. Securing a place in a public university is considered a major step towards a successful career, especially for those from rural areas or disadvantaged families. The pressure on the candidates therefore remains very high, despite the measures taken to reduce the importance of these exams. In 2004, it was estimated that nearly one million students took the exam but, on average, only 20% passed.
Normally, candidates take three exams for the fixed group of subjects they choose. There are many fixed groups of subjects:
- Group A: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry
- Group A1: Mathematics, Physics, English
- Group B: Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry
- Group C: Literature, History, Geography
- Group D: Literature, Foreign Language, Mathematics
Group D consists of six subgroups based on the languages they provide in universities:
- Group D1: entrance exam subject is English; major language in university is English, but there are also French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin and Korean.
- Group D2: entrance exam subject is Russian; major language in university is Russian
- Group D3: entrance exam subject is French; major language in university is French, students can choose Italian instead
- Group D4: entrance exam subject is Chinese; major language in university is Mandarin
- Group D5: entrance exam subject is German; major language in university is German
- Group D6: entrance exam subject is Japanese; major language in university is Japanese
Besides these, there are groups for artistic and cultural education:
- Group H: Literature, Colored Painting, Pencil Drawing
- Group M: Literature, Mathematics, Singing and Expressive Reading, Instrument Performance (optional)
- Group N: Literature, Tone and Melody, Vocal
- Group R: Literature, History, Journalism
- Group S: Literature, Theatrical Talents
- Group T: Mathematics, Biology, Sports
- Group V: Mathematics, Physics, Drawing
In 2007, Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training started to use multiple choice exam format for several subjects during the university entrance examination. These subjects include Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Foreign Language. Each multiple choice exam lasts 90 minutes. The foreign language exam consists of 80 multiple choice questions; meanwhile, the Physics, Chemistry, Biology exam has 50 questions. Math, Literature, History and Geography exams use composition format.
Starting from the entrance exam of 2013, 10 artistic and cultural universities will remove Literature from the exam of the group H, N and S. Instead, the results of three years in high school and the scores of the HGE will be used to evaluate the candidates.
Starting from 2015, high school graduation and university entrance merged to one exam. Each student will take at least four subjects for the exam including three compulsory — mathematics, literature and foreign language (mostly English) — and one sub-subject such as physics, chemistry, geography, biology, history. After the result has been given, the student can use their score to pass the high school graduation exam and to go to their desired college with three chosen points from the four given.
Types of higher education institutions
Vietnamese Government decree (decree 43/2000/ND-CP, dated August 30, 2000) identified three types of higher education institutions:
- "Đại học" (university), which is a multidisciplinary institution offering fields of study and which has research capacities. Five major multidisciplinary universities in Vietnam are Vietnam National University, Hanoi; Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City; Huế University; University of Da Nang; Can Tho University and Nguyen University.
- "Trường Đại học" (senior college), which is more narrowly focused in its curriculum, sometimes on a single study area.
- "Học viện" (institute), which is also narrowly focused in terms of study area but which may have a specialized research capacity.
The presence of foreign universities is increasing. Universities such as PSB International College, RMIT, Eastern International University and University of Hawaii offer degrees in fields such as business, English as a Second Language and Information Technology. Running a foreign education system in Vietnam is challenging. Quality control and affordability are key issues, as well as red tape.
Higher education qualifications
- Associate Degree (Vietnamese: Cao đẳng): a three-year program delivered by junior colleges (including teachers colleges and others) and by some universities as additional training programs.
- Bachelor's degree (Vietnamese: Cử nhân): a four- to six-year program — six years for students studying medical and dental sciences; five years for students of industrial engineering; and four years for the majority of other undergraduate degrees such as Social Sciences. Graduates receive degrees with a title corresponding to their field of study such as bachelor (cử nhân), engineer (kỹ sư), medical doctor (bác sĩ), or lawyer (luật sư), etc.
Most of Vietnam's universities also offer master's (two years) and Doctor of Philosophy (four years) degrees.
Teaching quality issues
The entire higher education system is facing several crises, such as outdated curricula, a lecturer-centered method of teaching and learning, a lack of linkage between teaching and research activities, and a large discord between theory and practical training that leads to a large number of graduates being unable to find a job, while skills shortages drive inflation to double-digit levels. Vietnamese students have a lack of knowledge despite being taught a lot due to the fact that the main purpose of studying hard is to pass exams. According to the survey on graduate employment in 2009-2010 conducted by Center for Policy Studies and Analysis- University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi, among 3000 respondents, 26.2% are still unemployed with the majority unable to find a job. Among those employed, 61% said they lacked sufficient working skill, 42% lacked experience and 32% cited insecure professional expertise.
Aside from degrees offered by foreign universities, qualifications from Vietnamese universities are not recognized worldwide.
Teaching methods delivered in the public system are teacher-oriented. Class discussions are uncommon, and students are expected to be studious and passively attentive in the classroom. This method is a manifestation of Confucian culture, and is a sharp contrast to American and British pedagogy, where interaction and debate are more prominent.
Advanced and specialized high school students are generally expected to study additional courses, which can amount to a total of nine periods a day. Parents also enroll their children into extensive tutoring sessions, which is not to be confused with cram schools, because the tutoring sessions are taken regardless of any upcoming tests or exams. The average monthly salary of local Vietnamese public teachers is between US$60 and US$100, so many supplement their income by moonlighting, working in the private sector or tutoring. Students who do not attend these sessions are always at a disadvantage, as materials appearing on tests and exams are often covered only in tutoring sessions.
Public schools are underfunded. Currently, only primary schools are subsidized by the government, to 50% of the total tuition cost. Enrollment rates may be high; however, primary education quality, particularly in poor areas, is below the required standard. Moreover, the drop-out rate after fifth grade is also high, especially in rural and mountainous area since most students cannot afford to attend secondary school or university, due to poverty. Participatory Poverty Assessments (PPAs) found that for many poor households, child labor is considered much more valuable than school attendance. Regular school absenteeism also leads to poor academic performance. For poor families, the opportunity cost of sending their children to school is perceived to be high and the long-term benefit of education cannot outweigh the short-term economic losses.
English as a Second Language teachers
Private language centers offering English as a Second Language are in high demand in the larger cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Students flock to these schools to increase their employment opportunities.
These classes are usually taught by foreign expatriates who are generally paid between 10 and 20 US dollars per hour, depending on their qualifications and on the quality of the school. Lower standards in some of the lower-paying schools have resulted in a proliferation of low-quality teachers (known to the community as "backpacker teachers", who are typically travelers hired for teaching, hence "backpacker"). Those teachers are often only hired for being blond, white and 'foreign'. Many come to Vietnam for the promise of a high salary for easy work — their job is usually showing the children flashcards and playing games with them. Many centers are only there to make money for the owners and hire foreigners to keep the parents of the students happy enough to keep them sending their children to those schools. The costs can be very high, 12 euro per lesson of 1.5h is not uncommon.
However, a number of recent developments have contributed to changes in the sector affecting the numbers and roles of such "backpacker" teachers and, it is hoped, improving quality and standards as a result.
Firstly, a more stringent immigration/visa system is now being more strictly enforced (where previously the regulations were only enforced if visiting teachers fell foul of the criminal legal system). Now schools are routinely inspected for foreign teachers (ostensibly to ensure the tax codes are applied) and, as part of this process, degrees and teaching qualifications must be verified by the holder's embassy or relevant authority. Copies must be filed with immigration authorities. (Similar regulations for opening bank accounts and registration of residences of foreigners mean unqualified teachers remain but are often consigned to the "back-street" schools or may be susceptible to disreputable school owners and landlords. The penalties for abuse of these regulations are substantial with respect to rents or incomes of schools.)
Secondly, despite high standards of university qualifications, until recently, the numbers of qualified, Asian (native or non-native speakers) career teachers working in Vietnamese schools, language schools or universities, were quite low. This is partly due to the preference for white European (native and non-native speakers), Australian/New Zealand, US/Canadian teachers (which often kept fees high, whether this made any real impact on teaching salaries) and partly due to difficulties in securing work permits. Recently, perceptions have changed and, in an attempt to maintain higher standards while simultaneously reduce costs, Filipino teachers have been hired. They are playing a fundamental role in many schools by augmenting teaching standards by virtue of their skills and professionalism, while altering public perceptions about their abilities — moving the focus away from "white, native-speakers at all cost, even if they are backpackers".
The country has implemented OECD guidelines to the education sector with respect to English language skills of high school and university graduates. This means that for high school graduates to apply for university entry, overseas study (high school or university), or graduate from an undergraduate university course, individuals must achieve an internationally recognised and standardised test of English (IELTS, TOEIC, TOEFL, etc., or sometimes worryingly "an equivalent, designed, created and marked by local instructors, with scores/levels varying from course/degree/university/institution). This recent development has caused further changes in this sector, attracting further experienced IELTS trainers, retaining existing trainers and creating demands for teacher training from such agencies as British Council and IDP (and in the process probably diminishing opportunities for unqualified teachers, consigning them further to the fringes).
- In Vietnam, tertiary education is divided into two types: university education (giáo dục đại học)–which offers research-orientated programs and lasts for four years, and college education (giáo dục cao đẳng)–which offers vocational programs and lasts for two years.
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