road to learning dictates education reform
Waseda University engages Vietnam in distance learning program.
Students in language lab studying English.
An Thi, not yet three years old, has already been attending for a year,
the privately-run Rainbow School in Hanoi. Sure, he’s a privileged
child, but there are thousands of more young children, whose parents
sacrifice, and like those in the West, provide them with a jump-start in
are now over 82 million people in Vietnam—half under the age of
30—and they are the first generation to come of age in peace, and
their dreams are indeed challenging previous Communist Party slogans,
though the nimble new Communists are in many cases quite effective
capitalists themselves. Together, Vietnam’s new young consumers are
charting the course for a brighter future than any of their ancestors
might have imagined and the key to their future is education.
Presently we have over 22 million people now enrolled in the formal
education system and we have over 751,000 educators of all different
levels,” acknowledged Dr. Dang Ba Lam, director general of the
National Institute for Educational Development in Hanoi.
signed U.S.-Vietnam trade agreement may generate educational
opportunities for foreign investors. The facts are startling: The demand
for quality education is huge and growing—the number of students who
entered university last year represented a near six-fold increase on
1990 enrollments. There are now over 900,000 Vietnamese enrolled in
colleges and universities. Students sitting tertiary entrance exams this
year numbered 1.2 million and that figure is expected to climb by five
percent annually between now and 2010.
all, this is a society where knowledge ostensibly brings enormous
respect, where the ambition of most students leaving high school is to
complete an undergraduate degree and at least one postgraduate
qualification, and where the part-time language or vocational course is
almost a national obsession.
authorities reportedly plan to build a further 61 universities over the
next 10 years to meet increasing demand, bringing the total number of
tertiary institutions to 284.
must be given to the government. Since 1986 when doi moi, or renovation
started, Vietnam’s literacy rates have dramatically improved and
school enrollments are up. A sure sign that the government’s present
and future commitments to education might pay off. Nevertheless, the
capacity of the education system is inadequate to support the rapid
Vietnam is a country strongly committed to education, dating back to its
Confucian roots and culminating in the country’s network today of over
190 private and public universities and colleges. The World Bank
estimates that 94 percent of Vietnam’s adult population is literate, a
figure that is especially impressive given the country’s financial
constraints and many years of war. In 1991, the government signed a law
to universalize primary education, and plans to universalize junior
secondary education by 2010 with senior secondary education following in
2020. These developments are indicative of the high value that
Vietnamese place on education.
education system is undergoing a period of tremendous upheaval and
change, as universities and colleges seek new ways to become more
responsive to the demands of this growing student population with skill
needs for the market-oriented economy. As the state ministry charged
with managing Vietnam’s education system, the Ministry of Education
and Training (MOET) has launched a number of dramatic and wide-sweeping
reforms within the context of its present system. These include
consolidating universities in an effort to pool limited resources
(1995); authorizing the formation of semi-public, private and
people-founded universities (1997); encouraging universities to adopt a
bottom-up approach to curriculum development (1997);and lifting
requirements for a mid-term exam between the second and third years of
college to encourage students to complete their studies (1998). And most
recently, 2000-01 academic year, MOET allowed colleges and universities
to decide on student entrance criteria.
in educational ranks
Despite such developments, Vietnam’s education sector is saddled with
many serious problems. Critics contend that bulging enrollment rosters
are a strain on universities already hard pressed to keep up with
demand. Schools at virtually every level are running at over capacity.
Low teachers’ salaries have forced many to switch to more lucrative
careers, causing a shortage of at least 103,000 teachers in 1998. Among
the 25,000 teachers working at universities and colleges nationwide,
only about 20 percent have advanced degrees, usually from the Soviet
era. Many universities and colleges suffer from old, outdated equipment,
books and learning materials, and teachers have little access to new
curricula and training. Efforts to produce graduates with the skills and
qualifications needed to survive in the new market-oriented workplace
have had mixed results; and weak overall education management combined
with a lack of real institutional autonomy results in general
Hanoi’s respected School for Foreign Languages, Professor Nguyen Ngoc
Hung, says thousands of Vietnamese are studying English as a means to
gain access to more opportunities. “ Additionally, we have set up a
pilot e-learning program with the New School in New York, and the focus
includes a required readings on the Vietnam War,” added the former
The potential role of foreign investment was acknowledged last year when
a Ministry of Education decree asserted that “all kinds of investment
in education, including joint ventures and 100 percent foreign-invested
projects” will be allowed.
policy was adopted one month before Australia’s Royal Melbourne
Institute of Technology (RMIT) was granted a license to invest more than
$50 million in the construction and operation of Vietnam’s first
foreign-owned university in Ho Chi Minh City. Their scheduled new campus
is now under construction in Saigon South, a major Taiwan financed real
estate project outside of Ho Chi Minh City.
include English, information technology, computer science and software
engineering, are taught to an international standard and cost students
between a quarter and a third of their equivalent in Australia.
Vietnam’s own valued tradition of university education, and after more
than 2 years of detailed project planning in cooperation with the Asian
Development Bank and the Vietnamese government, RMIT received all the
necessary licenses towards the establishment of the first full foreign
ownership and international curricula.
unique license issued directly from the Vietnamese government may very
well become the future standard in the country,” added Patricia
Roessler, the deputy general director at RMIT International Vietnam from
their attractive small campus located in Central Ho Chi Minh City.
Tuck’s Business School at Dartmouth has been cooperating with the
Hanoi School of Business. This successful program includes an exchange
of faculty and students. Professor Joseph Massey, former U.S. Trade
Representative to China, has been spearheading this program for several
years. “Our friends in Vietnam are eager to have this shared
experience with Tuck, and we in turn are mindful of the contributions we
can make to providing MBA executive-level programs to Vietnam,” adds
learning links other universities
Distance Education is not strange to the Vietnamese people. Presently
courses in foreign languages and test preparation lessons for university
entry are offered through state-run television and multimedia tools.
These are rather standard services but not enough to meet the needs of
the younger Net-literate population.
institutions are promoting “Education Without Boundaries,” a
Distance Education agenda that is really an excellent education
alternative and suitable for many Vietnamese students. These targeted
distance learning students do not have to be concerned about
international travel, accommodations, and food expenses, as well as the
frequent visa denials.
these initiatives, Vietnam’s government recognizes that spending
remains a big obstacle to providing the necessary hardware (computers)
to school systems. Millions of dollars must be invested not only in
equipping the country’s more than 1,200 senior secondary schools, but
also in training IT teachers.
Polytech is also embracing the use of the Internet in its curriculum
development and even Vietnam’s Post and Telecommunications Training
Center has a special distance training network program established with
Japan’s Waseda University.
VNPT’s distant training program network is really completed, we are
certain that it will make an enormous contribution into manpower
training work not only for our own employees, but also for our education
in general,” stated, Chu Quang Toan, deputy director Vietnam Post and
Telecoms Training Center.
Vietnam, despite the poverty
that still haunts it, despite the bureaucratic educational inertia, has
chosen not to be left out of the digital age. All this is part of
providing more tools and educational opportunities for future
generations like Nguyen An Thi. After all, these children are the hope
and promise for the country’s bright future.
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