A spotlight on Vietnam’s transformation in education
The economic transformation of Vietnam since the Doi Moi reforms has been very successful, making it one of the fastest growing economies in the world. From the outset, education has been a central component of reform, based on the understanding that for an economy to thrive, its people must have the requisite education, training and skills needed to underpin business and growth. As such, the government has devoted between 15-20% of its entire spending budget to education since the late 1990s, remaining at 20% over the past 5 years.
Building a country from the education system up
As with any large-scale change, the evolution of the education sector has taken time, effort and significant investment, but today Vietnam can be proud of the huge progress already made. The first Education for All (EFA) action plan saw the country make massive strides in the areas of universal primary education, gender equality and adult literacy, while the second EFA plan built further on this by turning the focus to quality from quantity, universal lower-secondary education, lifelong learning, and the improvement of educational management and resources deployment. Underpinning both EFAs were the principles of inclusivity – support for the most disadvantaged and remote rural communities – the expansion of vocational and out-of-school learning to meet the demands of newly emerging economic sectors, and the professional development of teachers and education managers.
Overlapping with the second EFA is Resolution 29-NQ/TW on the “Fundamental and comprehensive innovation in education, serving industrialisation and modernization in a socialist-oriented market economy during international integration,”, which puts forward a research-based, forward-thinking strategic plan aimed at developing a world-class, modern system of education that meets both the needs of a globalised 21st century economy, and the national demands of the Vietnamese labour market. Though the resolution reflects openly and transparently on some persisting weaknesses in the system to date, it underlines the government’s firm commitment to transforming education from “knowledge provision to the comprehensive development of learners in terms of capability and personal qualities.” This mirrors the trends we have seen in education globally, with curricula and pedagogy promoting 21st century skills over rote learning, practice and hands-on learning over theory and transmission teaching. Indeed, the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training has been very outward looking, drawing on influences from other high-performing countries, notably those in Scandinavia, for inspiration in their upgraded philosophy of education.
A budding success story
While there is more to be achieved, there is also much to be celebrated. The 2018 World Bank report: “Growing Smarter: Learning and Equitable Development in East Asia and Pacific” acknowledges that Vietnam is one of two countries in the East Asia-Pacific where the education system has developed most impressively. Covering the entire educational spectrum, physical infrastructure development and educational policy initiatives over the past two decades have seen the numbers of pupils accessing and remaining in education grow steadily. “During the period between 2001 and 2010, the net enrolment rates increased significantly. Enrolment of 5-year-old children in kindergarten increased from 72 per cent to 98 per cent, primary education enrolment increased from 94 per cent to 97 per cent, lower-secondary from 70 per cent to 85 per cent, and high school from 33 per cent to 50 per cent. Over the same period, training increased by a factor of 3.08, professional intermediate training increased by a factor of 2.69, and colleges and universities increased by a factor of 2.32.” At the very top end, where Higher Education used to be the preserve of only a few, registrations had grown from around 133,000 students in 1987 to 2.12 million students by 2015 – increasing by 125% between 2010 and 2020 from 200 students per 10,000 people in 2010 to 450 students per 10,000 people by 2020.
During the past two decades, every area of education and vocational training has been under review, with major achievements including the establishment of new accreditation and quality assurance mechanisms and the creation of a national qualifications framework that will improve the consistency of qualifications across the country and make them more easily exportable internationally. Attempts have been made to streamline the high-stake assessment system to relieve pressure on students and to free teachers up to focus more on skills and application rather than a more restrictive ‘teaching to the test’. To this end, university entrance exams were merged with the end of High School National High School Graduation Examinations (NHSGEs) in 2015. Further, it has been reported that the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) is looking at alternatives to exam-based assessment such as teacher evaluation of student performance that takes into account their strengths and weaknesses over the full range of subjects and their educational history.
The dividends are being seen across markers of educational achievement. According to official data from MOET, the literacy rate among people aged 15 to 35 has increased from 94% in 2000 to 98.1% in 2018 99% in 2020. In addition, Vietnam has repeatedly scored highly in the OECD PISA study (which measures academic performance in science, maths and reading) since it began participating in 2012.
Bound up in the investment in education has been major investment in technical infrastructure, with large-scale projects to bring first electricity, and then broadband infrastructure to the whole country – even in the remotest rural and mountainous areas. Today rural electrification is almost at 100%, making it one of the most ‘notable success stories in the developing world,’ according to the IMF. The government has invested £150bn to establish universal telecommunications and internet services, working with the leading private sector companies, which has so far provided connectivity to over 29,000 educational institutions. In 2018, average internet penetration in South East Asia was around 54%, against 74% in Vietnam. Mobile connectivity meanwhile (the number of mobile connections compared to the population) stood at an impressive 141% against a global average of 112%. Vietnam is well on the way to catching up with levels of internet penetration in the developed world, and attitudes towards ‘online’ are keeping pace: 63% report preferring to complete tasks digitally wherever possible.
On the back of this, in January 2017 the government approved a 10-year programme to strengthen the application of information technology in the management and support of teaching activities to enhance the quality of education and training. During a first phase to 2020, the focus was on laying the groundwork for a second phase of world-leading innovation in the use of education technology to enhance learning and assessment. The first phase involved ambitious, wide-reaching targets around the establishment of a national database for the entire education and training sector, as well as a shared repository of e-learning materials. The second will see the country applying information technology to become a driving force for innovation in educational management, content creation, teaching and learning methodology, and the evaluation of education and training, placing them in the vanguard of adopters in the ASEAN region.
Moving into the future
Vietnam’s booming digital economy has made them well prepared to weather the storm of Covid-19, and as in other countries, has to an extent accelerated progress towards a greater use of technology in education. Rana Flowers, Chief Representative of UNICEF in Vietnam has publicly praised the great efforts and quick reactions of Vietnam’s education sector in organising online classes during Covid-19. As part of this the government of Vietnam equipped educational institutions across 61 provinces with remote learning capabilities to enable them to replicate the classroom experience in a virtual environment.
“Vietnam is undergoing a nationwide digital transformation in education, and technology is important in shaping this process.” said Mr Nguyen Son Hai, Head of Technology Department, Ministry of Education and Training.
Vietnam’s ongoing reform of the education sector will remain one to watch over the next few years as recent policies begin the bear fruit. Might this digital transformation in education in Vietnam extend to digital assessment in the near future?
Find out how New Zealand embarked on a transformational journey to digital assessment to reflect the digital world that students live and learn in.