Opinion
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Learning From and With Vietnam’s Schools

By Vanessa Shadoian-Gersing — July 27, 2015 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Vietnam, a newcomer to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012, scored higher than the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average and outperformed many developed economies, leaving many experts to wonder how they did so. Vanessa Shadoian-Gersing, a former OECD analyst who writes and consults on global education, sheds light on the evidence and offers observations based on her recent work in Vietnam. She also proposes strategies for bringing Vietnam’s school system to the next level.

Vietnamese students surprised the world with their 2012 PISA results. Other assessments confirm that Vietnamese students and adults have strong numeracy and literacy skills. Vietnam’s accomplishments over the past 20 years are indeed remarkable in terms of attendance, completion, and student achievement. In fact, whenever I am in Vietnamese cities, I am impressed by the energy of this dynamic society and its respect for education.

Contributing Factors

A few key factors have helped Vietnam get to this point:

Demonstrated commitment to education
Vietnam’s commitment to education is visible in sizeable public and private investments and rising attainment levels. The belief that a healthy mix of education and hard work is the key to success is palpable on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, where children are seemingly always en route to school or supplemental classes.

Improvements in school and teacher quality
In recent years, Vietnam has expanded enrollment while defining and enforcing minimum quality standards for school facilities countrywide. Teacher quality also matters, and Vietnam has laid a solid foundation by professionalizing its teaching force and establishing standards around teacher content knowledge, skills, and dispositions. The value that Vietnamese culture places on teachers surely helps.

Outwards orientation to keep the system evolving
Vietnam eagerly takes inspiration from abroad. Its experts regularly study curriculum reform in high-performing countries like Korea and Singapore. The country also participates in several initiatives focused on developing innovative teaching methods (such as the Escuela Nueva pilot adapted from Colombia) and deeper learning skills (including these ASEAN seminars). In addition, new K-12 and higher education reforms incorporate lessons learned from previous reforms.

Challenges Remain
Yet there are quality improvements and gaps to close in attainment and achievement:

Out of school children
Nearly 37 percent of Vietnamese children are not enrolled in upper secondary school. Since PISA assesses learning of 15-year olds in school, scores were likely inflated by the underrepresentation of students from low-income and disadvantaged groups. A major challenge is to reduce early school dropout and related inequities while maintaining quality.

Changing skill needs
As Vietnam’s economy evolves, good basic numeracy and literacy skills will no longer suffice. The labor market increasingly demands a mix of high-quality cognitive, behavioral, and technical skills—skills employers say are rare among graduates.

The Path Ahead: Streamlined Curriculum for the 21st Century
The next step for Vietnam is to provide better quality schooling that fosters higher-order cognitive and behavioral skills (such as creative and critical thinking) for more young people. Accordingly, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) is working with K-12 educators on an ambitious reform to design coherent, focused, high-quality curricular standards that optimize learning and promote the competencies needed to master content and apply knowledge.

Upgrading Instructional Practice for Effective Implementation
While curricular reform is an important step, the resulting change in classroom instruction is what matters. Ensuring policies and practices are aligned across the education system will require close attention to how the new curriculum is taught (and assessed).

Better pedagogical strategies
Although Vietnamese policymakers have promoted better teaching and active learning methods since the 1990’s, lecture-style, rote learning remains the dominant practice. On my school visits, teacher-centered approaches were the norm, and students seemed conditioned to receive knowledge passively. Active, student-centered approaches were rare (the classroom pictured above was a notable exception). Not surprisingly, an analysis of PISA findings implies Vietnamese students lack confidence in applying learning to practice.

Vietnamese researchers, teachers, and students share similar perspectives and explanations for these gaps. A recent focus group and a UNESCO youth opinion poll confirm the persistence of one-way lecturing that emphasizes theory and relies heavily on textbooks. Though many teachers grasp the importance of active learning for student engagement and learning outcomes, they say they lack materials to support their use of such approaches. To help bridge these gaps, policymakers plan to ensure a comprehensive set of aligned textbooks and teaching materials is developed to support the transition to the new curriculum.

Stakeholder understanding and engagement
Classroom practices can change only if stakeholders understand and believe in new curricular standards and pedagogical models. Yet, the focus and implications of previous reforms were not made sufficiently clear to educators, parents, and students. Having learned from experience, MOET intends to conduct consultation and outreach campaigns to foster public support for the revised curriculum. MOET also plans curriculum piloting as well as online and in-person training to foster teacher understanding and engagement.

Strengthening capacity at the point of delivery
For teachers accustomed to traditional practices, changing teaching methods and fostering new skills can be a complex endeavor. Developing higher-order skills requires teachers to have a deeper mastery of their subjects and a wider pedagogical repertoire than what is needed for knowledge transmission.

Examples from other countries show that meeting new demands on teachers’ skills and expertise at scale requires robust and sustained forms of professional learning. There is much to improve: the current professional development model is limited and needs to be upgraded to a model in which local institutions’ capacities are enhanced to provide more tailored content, year-round, with new teaching methods.

Building instructional capacity also requires meaningful, ongoing support. Establishing appropriate support structures is vital for enabling teachers and principals to implement new pedagogical models in schools. In addition, creating mechanisms for professional learning and collaboration among teachers and clusters of schools would allow educators to learn from one another and continually refine their practices.

As Vietnam sets out to build on its initial successes and prepare for a modern economy, there has never been a more fascinating time to be learning from, and with, its education system.

References and Further Reading

Follow Vanessa and Heather on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of author.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Seamless Integrations for Engagement in the Classroom
Learn how to seamlessly integrate new technologies into your classroom to support student engagement. 
Content provided by GoGuardian
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Teenager Balances Family Care, Work, and Credit Recovery on a Path to Graduation
Remote learning didn't start Gerilyn Rodriguez's academic problems, but it accelerated them.
3 min read
Gerilyn Rodriguez, 18, poses at Miami Carol City Park in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Aug. 19, 2022. After struggling with remote learning during the pandemic and dropping out of school, Rodriguez is now a student at Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies.
Gerilyn Rodriguez, 18, struggled with remote learning during the pandemic and dropped out of high school. A "graduation advocate" persuaded her to enroll in Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies in Miami, Fla.
Josh Ritchie for Education Week
College & Workforce Readiness What It Took to Get This Teenager Back on Track to Graduate
Nakaya Domina had been disengaging from school for years before she left Cimarron-Memorial High School in Las Vegas in 2019.
3 min read
Nakaya Domina pictured at her home in Las Vegas, Nev., on Aug. 12, 2022. After dropping out of school during the pandemic, she returned to a credit recovery program, where her "graduation candidate advocate" has helped her stay engaged. She expects to graduate this summer, and will then enter a postsecondary program in digital marketing.
Nakaya Domina dropped out of her public high school in Las Vegas in 2019 but managed to graduate this year with the help of a "graduation advocate" and a dropout recovery program.
Bridget Bennett for Education Week
College & Workforce Readiness Anxiety and Isolation Kept Him Out of School. How an Alternative Program Helped
After years of worsening anxiety that kept him from school, Blaine Franzel’s prospects for high school graduation are looking up.
3 min read
Blaine Franzel, 17, and his mother, Angel Franzel, pictured at their home in Stuart, Fla., on Aug. 15, 2022. After struggling during remote learning and dropping out of public school, Franzel is now thriving at an alternative school where he is learning about aviation.
Blaine Franzel, 17, and his mother, Angel Franzel, live in Stuart, Fla. After struggling during remote learning and dropping out of public school, Franzel is now thriving at an alternative school where he is learning about aviation.
Josh Ritchie for Education Week
College & Workforce Readiness 'Graduation Counselors' Go Door-to Door to Find Missing Students
On tree-lined streets and trailer parks, workers knock on doors to offer students a second chance at graduation.
6 min read
LaTosha Walker knocks on the door of a home where a student lives that has dropped out of school due to attendance records to talk to them about enrollment in Lowcountry Acceleration Academy in North Charleston on Tuesday, August 9, 2022.
LaTosha Walker, an enrollment coach for Lowcountry Acceleration Academy, knocks on the door of the home of a student who dropped out of school in Charleston, S.C.
Henry Taylor for Education Week