SCHOOL LIFE IN VIETNAM

SCHOOL LIFE IN VIETNAM

Education continued to be structured in a traditional manner, including preschool, vocational and professional schools, supplementary courses, and higher education. "General" education, however, was extended from ten to twelve years. The first nine years of general education formed the compulsory level, corresponding to primary and junior high schools; the last three years constituted the secondary level. Graduates of secondary schools were considered to have completed training in "general culture" and to be ready for employment requiring skilled labor. They were also eligible to apply to colleges or advanced vocational and professional schools. The general education category also covered the schooling of gifted and handicapped children. As part of the effort to foster "love and respect" for manual labor, students spent 15 percent of school time at the primary level and 17 percent at the secondary level in manual work. *

Although five years of primary school education was considered compulsory and 92 percent of eligible children were enrolled in primary school in 2000, only two-thirds completed the fifth grade. The cost of tuition, books, and uniforms and the need to supplement family income are the two main reasons for dropping out. A huge disparity exists in primary school enrollment between the cities and rural parts of Vietnam. In some rural areas, only 10 to 15 percent of the children progress beyond third grade, whereas almost 96 percent of pupils in Ho Chi Minh City complete fifth grade. In 2000 enrollment in secondary school was only 62.5 percent, much lower than in primary school. One of the government’s goals is to expand access to secondary education. School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 10 years; male: 11 years; female: 10 years (2001). [Source: Library of Congress 2005, CIA World Factbook]

The school year in Vietnam begins in September. The elementary school day lasts from 7:30am to 1:00pm. Children often wear uniforms and sit on benches behind wooden desks with small porcelain inkpots in the corners. Schoolgirls often wear white dresses and boys wear white shirts and red kerchiefs. The windows in rural schools often have no panes. When there is no breeze it can be oppressively hot. In the Mekong Delta you can find schools with children in them flooded with water. As a vestige of the French system many schools are called lycees.

In the early 2000s teachers in rural areas were only paid $24 to $39 a month. The decline of government subsidies has really hurt education. Students are now required to pay for their books and in some case their classes. Many children help their parents in the fields after they finish school and drop out early to help their families. It is not unusual for secondary students to halt their education because their families can not afford the fees. More students dropping out to look for jobs. Jobs that require education often have a low salary.

Teaching Methods and Style of Learning in Vietnam

According to one Vietnamese educator students have traditionally been expected to "sit down, shut up and listen." One man told Stanley Karnow he left Vietnam in the 1970s for the U.S. because his children came "home from school singing Communist songs, but cannot add numbers. All Communist care about is politics, not science or math, just politics. So I decide to escape, even if my family die at sea.”

Lots of middle class Vietnamese spend a small fortune on private piano lessons for their children. In the early 2000s, an 8-year-old girl won a major international piano competition.

With the help of British, Australian and American educators, Vietnam is attempting t overhaul its education system and not put so much emphasis on rote learning and instead encourage students to think independently and even question authority.

USA Today reported: “At Le Qui Don high school, one of Ho Chi Minh City's best, teachers overhauled the curriculum to encourage students to search for answers on their own rather than receive information passively, says principal Pham Van Phiet. When a visiting journalist asks a classroom full of teenage students what they want to be when they grow up, one young man stands and confidently replies in English: "I want to be a businessman like Bill Gates." [Source: David J. Lynch, USA Today, December 4, 2007]

Vietnamese Teachers Pay for Class Materials from Salaries

In 2010, the Viet Nam News reported: The Ministry of Education and Training believes it is a teacher's job to make classroom props, said Pham Thi Binh, a teacher at Mam Xanh Kindergarten in Dong Da District. However, she said she did not have the time to spend making teaching aids, and that funds should be made available to buy materials. Binh said her school day started at about 6.30am and officially ends at 6pm. "Then I make teaching materials in the evening – time I should be spending with my family," she said. She said she often has to ask her husband and her children for help so that she can get the work done faster. [Source: Viet Nam News, November, 25, 2010 /:/]

“Depending on the subject, Binh said she makes paper flowers, animals and models of houses, trains and airplanes. She said each year a teacher has to make dozens of classroom props, which are rarely re-used. However, she said it was essential to use teaching aids in the classroom. "Our lessons will only be successful if we make them fun and interesting." The Education Ministry allocates just VND300,000 (US$15) per teacher per year for teaching aids, she said, adding: "It should be at least VND600,000 ($30)." /:/

“Meanwhile, Nguyen Thi Hang, who teaches at the Sunrise Kindergarten in Thanh Xuan District, said her husband was angry that she had to spend so much time on school. "My husband isn't at all happy when I have to spend my evenings making teaching aids instead of taking care of our small daughter," she said. However, Hang said it was not unreasonable to expect teachers to make their own props and that every term kindergartens awarded prizes to the most creative teachers. But she said teachers should not be expected to have to spend their own money on materials. "By making teaching aids we demonstrate our love for the job and the children," she said. She also said that pupils preferred home-made props to those sold in shops. /:/

“Hoang Hong Thuy, Lang Thuong Kindergarten's principal, said she would gladly reimburse teachers the cost of making classroom props if she had the money. "We need more support from the Ministry of Education and Training," she said. In the meantime, she advised teachers to only make simple inexpensive props. "We need simple and colorful toys which will save teachers time, money and energy," she said. /:/

“Pham Ngoc Phuong, deputy director of the Department of School Materials and Equipment at the Ministry of Education and Training, said making handmade props promoted creativity among teachers.He added that from next year the ministry planned to spend VND700 billion (US$36.8 million) on materials that teachers could use to make props. The following year, he said the ministry would organize training courses for kindergarten teachers. /:/

Moral Education Curriculum in Vietnamese Schools

In his paper “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system,” Dung Hue Doan of Nong Lam University wrote: “Moral education is incorporated in the formal curriculum and taught as a single subject of study at all levels of the educational system. In effect, it is also stated in the Education Law 1998 that the content of education must place a strong emphasis on moral and citizenship education. Therefore, moral education occupies significant parts in the curriculum, focusing on character education, citizenship education and political education in primary, secondary and higher education respectively. The curriculum of moral education in primary and secondary schools is centrally controlled through the use of a series of compulsory textbooks, which are titled Ethics education for Grades 1–5 (ages 6–10) (SRV MOET, 2003a, b, c, d, e) and Citizenship education for Grades 6–12 (ages 11–17) (SRV MOET, 2003f, g, h, i, 2004a, d, e) and through various extracurricular activities. Moral education in the primary school focuses on character and personality building, which aims ‘to teach students to respect, love and show good behaviour towards grandparents, parents, teachers, older people; to love brothers, sisters, and friends; to be sincere, confident, eager to learn, and appreciative of nature’s beauty’ [Source: “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system” by Dung Hue Doan, Nong Lam University, Linh Trung, Thu Duc, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Email: doanhuedung@hcm.vnn.vn, Journal of Moral Education |^|]

The syllabus of moral education in each grade is typically topic-based. At primary level (Grades 1–5), ethics lessons are taught through pictures, games, storytelling, rhythm and rhyme verse. At the end of each lesson there are always comprehension questions followed by inference questions. The lesson content falls into five main aspects: (1) matters relating to self, character and personality; (2) relationship of self to other people; (3) matters relating to nature; (4) matters relating to national identity and love for nation; and (5) matters related to community and society. |^|

The syllabuses that are taught in lower secondary schools (Grades 6–9, ages 11– 14) focus on citizenship education. However, a major part of the teaching content also covers similar topics taught in ethics lessons in primary education. Another part aims to introduce the Constitution of Vietnam and basic rights and duties of Vietnamese citizens. Citizenship education in high schools also covers basic areas of social policy, such as existing laws and socio-economic policy. Citizenship education in high school (Grades 10–12, age 15–17), however, has an overall emphasis on introducing philosophy and principles of Marxism and Leninism. The notion of developing a ‘socialist citizen’ is strongly highlighted. The model of socialist citizen is described as a patriot who loves manual labor, and knows how to live and work for the harmony and benefits of the community. In this context, a materialistic lifestyle, criticised as consumption, is still alien to the traditional values of the nation, the values obtained through hard work and struggles for the independence and stability of the country. |^|

Though moral education or citizenship education has been treated as an important single subject in the curriculum, its impact on children’s personality and character development is very limited. Students perceive these courses as compulsory parts of the study programmes. Substantial weaknesses can be found in the teaching content and methods (SRV MOET, 2004b, p. 23). In other words, unit topics that are widely criticised by teachers as plain and narrow are taught repeatedly in different grades (as shown in the summary in Table 2). In addition, the quality of reading texts used in textbooks for moral and citizenship education is far lower than the texts used in literature textbooks, therefore they fail to draw children’s attention and interest. Teaching resources are another issue, as there are no specialised teachers for moral education. For example, at primary school this subject is taught by the teacher in charge of the class, who is responsible for teaching all the subjects on the curriculum. In secondary and high schools, moral education is normally taught by the headmaster or those support staff whose main job is to maintain the mission and activities of the Communist Party unit. Above all, the objectives of moral education for primary and secondary schools, as mentioned above, are actually unclear and unfocused (SRV MOET, 2004b, p. 23). The teaching content, therefore, is not deep enough to cultivate in children essential virtues, proper manners and a high sense of responsibility for self-development or for the progress of the community. |^|

Moral Education Objectives in Elementary School in Vietnam

Describing what is taught to kids as part of their moral education in each grade level of elementary school in Vietnam, Dung Hue Doan of Nong Lam University wrote In his paper “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system”: “Grade 1 Age 6: 1) Cultivation of virtues (tidiness, obedience, friendliness, politeness); 2) Being neat and tidy; 3) Building proper manners and behaviour at home and school (respect for elderly, teachers); 4) Nourishing family love; 5) Understanding and appreciating the natural environment; 6) Being respectful and obedient to teachers; 7) Being cooperative with friends; 8) Saying thanks and apologies; 9) Protecting plants and trees in public places. [Source: “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system” by Dung Hue Doan, Nong Lam University, Linh Trung, Thu Duc, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Email: doanhuedung@hcm.vnn.vn, Journal of Moral Education |^|]

Grade 2 Age 7: 1) Cultivation of virtues (punctuality, truthfulness, respect, labor, politeness); 2) Being punctual; ) Development of love for nature, love for community; 2) Recognizing mistakes and correcting mistakes; 3) Increasing interest in doing housework; 4) Caring for friends; 5) Being polite while talking, making suggestions and requests; 6) Helping the disabled; 7) Protecting animals.

Grade 3 Age 8: 1) Cultivation of virtues, development of cultural awareness, friendly attitudes towards people from other countries; appreciation of soldiers and national defenders; 2) Showing respect to Uncle Ho Chi Minh; 3) Keeping promises; 4) Working independently; 5) Helping neighbours; 6) Appreciating veterans and soldiers; 7) Respecting international visitors; 8) Respecting other people’s confidential matters; 9) Saving water resources.

Grade 4 Age 9: 1) Building personality (honesty, hard- working, self-discipline, self-esteem); 2) Being studious; 3) Developing proper relations with other people (friends, family members, neighbours); 4) Active participation in team work; 5) Being punctual; 6) Never telling lies; 7) Helping bullied children; 8) Helping teachers; 9) Keeping promises; 10) Saving money and time; 11) Taking care of grandparents; 12) Helping neighbours.

Grade 5 Age 10: 1) Cultivation of virtues (sincerity, cooperative spirit, respect for other people); 2) Sincerity in study and work; 3) Development of understanding of foreign countries, kindness to foreigners, appreciation of national identity; 4) Cooperative attitude in study and work; 5) Respecting former teachers; 6) Sharing emotions with friends; 7) Making grandparents and parents happy,

Grade Focus Sample topics: 1) Helping the young; 2) Giving consolation to unlucky people; 3) Helping the police; 4) Appreciating veterans and soldiers; 5) Respecting international visitors; 6) Respecting well-known people; 7) Being appreciative of Uncle Ho Chi Minh.

Vocational Schools in Vietnam

Vocational schools at the secondary and college levels served to train technicians and skilled workers. Graduates of professional specialized schools at the college level primarily filled mid-level cadre positions in the technical, economic, educational, cultural, and medical fields. Senior cadres in these fields as well as members of the upper bureaucracy usually had graduated from regular universities. The 1979 educational reforms gave high priority to vocational and professional training in order to absorb a large number of general education students who were unable to proceed to colleges and secondary-level vocational schools. In 1980, for example, 70 percent of primary school students and 85 percent of secondary school students failed to matriculate either because of bleak prospects for employment after graduation or because the country's ninety-three institutions of higher learning could admit only 10 percent of all applicants. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Vocational schools continued to struggle to attract students. In a study of mass education in Vietnam, a Western scholar observed that "Vietnamese students aggressively avoided vocational schools and the specialized middle schools favored by the government." He also noted: The reason for the imbalance between the technical schools and the general middle schools was only too clear. The former were thought to foreclose entry to high-status occupations. The latter were thought to be an indispensable part of the ideal educational odyssey through university and into the upper bureaucracy--the modern equivalent of the old Vietnamese Confucian quest to become a metropolitan examination graduate...or imperial tribute student . . . as Vo Nguyen Giap bitterly acknowledged in January 1982. *

After-School Education

Lots of middle class Vietnamese spend a small fortune on private piano lessons for their children. In the early 2000s, an 8-year-old girl won a major international piano competition. English and foreign language lessons are also popular for children.

Supplementary, or complementary, education served adults who had not completed a basic and secondary general education and who needed additional training in their specialties. Open to those under forty-five, supplementary courses were offered through correspondence, at worksites, or at special schools. Officials expected that participants in these courses could raise their "cultural level" to the equivalent of students who had completed ninth or twelfth grade. *

Poisoning in Vietnamese Schools

In the Central Highlands there have been a number of reports or teachers and students being poisoned. In one rash of poisonings more than 130 people were treated for breathing problems after they were "chemically poisoned." The attacks involved Christian ethnic grous in Dak Lak Province.

In April 2001, AFP reported: “More than 200 pupils and teachers have been poisoned in a spate of chemical attacks on classrooms in Vietnam's strife-torn central highlands, officials and official media said on Friday. The attacks targetted at least seven schools across three districts of the highland province of Dak Lak they said. Thirty-two children were still in a "serious condition" in the main specialist hospital in the provincial capital of Buon Me Thuot Friday, the deputy chairman of the province's child protection committee, Nguyen Quy Ba, told AFP. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 6, 2001 ////]

“The victims had all suffered severe breathing problems as well as headaches and vomiting, he said. The attacks come against a backdrop of a wave of unrest among the region's mainly Christian ethnic minorities which prompted the authorities to close off the region and send in the army in early February. About 100 pupils and teachers had been "chemically poisoned" in the different incidents across the province, the deputy head of Dak Lak's governing people's committee, Nguyen Van Lang, told AFP. But another official said 116 children and staff had been "poisoned" in twin attacks in a single commune. All the victims had been rushed to hospital suffering from dizziness and vomiting after the attacks on the Le Loi primary school and Nguyen Dinh Chieu secondary school in the Chu Hue commune of Ea Kar district, the communal official said, asking not to be named. ////

“The mass-circulation Ho Chi Minh City daily, Thanh Nien (Youth), said almost 200 people had been poisoned in five separate attacks across Ea Kar and Krong Bong districts. The trade union newspaper, Lao Dong (Labor), said there was also another attack on a different school in Krong Bong district on Monday in which more than 40 people were "seriously injured." And the child protection official said a further 20 children were injured in an attack on the Nguyen Van Be primary school in a third district -- Krong Paek. The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the chemicals used or who they believed to be responsible. But Lao Dong said the poisonings were caused by "some strange chemical with a bad smell that had been brought into the classroom by some strangers." A doctor at the provincial hospital in Buon Me Thuot said victims reported seeing a "yellow or white powder blowing in the air" inside their classroms. The foreign ministry remained tightlipped Friday about the incidents, as it has about all aspects of the ethnic unrest. ////

"The Dak Lak provincial authorities said they are investigating the event," ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh said. The education system has been one of the main focuses of the protests with separatist "troublemakers" leading the minorities in a boycott of the region's overwhelmingingly Vietnamese-language schools, the official media said last month. The schools targetted in this week's attacks taught in Vietnamese rather than the region's four main minority languages. The child protection official said the victims were mainly ethnic Vietnamese although the communal official said they had also included members of the Ede, Nung and Tay minorities. This week's poisonings were not the first such attacks reported by the official media during the unrest. In February shortly after violent protests in the region's main towns, Lao Dong reported that 45 children and four teachers had been treated for breathing difficulties after "chemical" attacks on two schools in a fourth district of Dak Lak -- Krong Buk. Two teachers and five pupils were rushed to provincial or district hospitals in a serious condition, the paper said, although it put at least one of the attacks down to a delinquent pupil.” ////

Seven Vietnamese Children Drown While on School Picnic

In December 2013, AFP reported: “Seven Vietnamese schoolchildren drowned while swimming in the sea during a picnic near Ho Chi Minh City, local police said. The children were swept out to sea by strong waves at Can Gio beach, a coastal area on the outskirts of Vietnam's largest city. According to the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper, the children, aged between 12 and 14 years old, were part of a group of nearly 100 students who were attending the school-organised picnic. [Source: The AFP, Nation, December 31, 2013]

"Most of them could swim well," a teacher who was escorting the picnic group said, according to Tuoi Tre. "Suddenly, the wave became big, pulling the kids away from the shore. Four of them swam back to ask for help but rescue canoes were not immediately available," he said. The students came from Nguyen Binh Khiem Upper Secondary School in neighbouring Binh Duong province. Drowning is one of the main causes of child deaths in Vietnam.

School Dropout Rate Increasing in Vietnam

Kap Thanh Long wrote in Thanh Nien, “About 114,000 students in Vietnam dropped out of school from September to December in 2007, and the disturbing trend shows no sign of abating, the Ministry of Education and Training has revealed. In some provinces many students quit school simultaneously. Over 6,000 students dropped out in the central highlands province of Gia Lai in the first term of the academic year 2007 –2008 and more than 2,000 students left school in Lam Dong, another central highlands province. In the south, more than 1,400 students left the education system in Binh Phuoc Province while 3,300 quit in Dong Nai. Ho Chi Minh City also experienced a sharp increase of dropouts, on top of the usual high numbers. [Source: Kap Thanh Long, Thanh Nien, March 7, 2008 \^/]

“Most HCMC school principals say young people leave school for a variety of reasons. Some have economically disadvantaged families or divorced or neglectful parents. The learning capacity of others is poor, so they fall behind their classmates. Others don’t like studying, cut class and fall behind. "Most of them quit school because their families are needy. We have already opened extra-classes for poor students, so the number of students leaving schools due to their poor learning capacity is not large," the principal of HCMC’s Nguyen An Ninh High School, Le Minh Duc said. Thirty of his students dropped out in the first term of this academic year. \^/

“In disadvantaged areas like An Giang, most of the students who drop out have parents who are not fully aware of the importance of studying and want them to stay home to earn money to support their families. A local educational official said this year students quit mainly because of bad results in the first term. Nearly 50 percent of Binh Phuoc’s dropouts and over 50 percent in Gia Lai left because of poor first term results. Deputy Minister of Education and Training Nguyen Vinh Hien, said the ministry’s overarching campaign had caused a great number of the dropouts. He said the assessment of their results had become stricter and more objective. Part of the campaign against "achievement focus" was aimed at better learning rather than just achieving good examination results. Another part, "Say no to students in wrong grades," involved a raft of measures including extra tutoring to bypass the need for students to repeat years. "This has discouraged students with bad results who would normally repeat a grade," Hien added. \^/

“Hien said they had directed local educational departments to cooperate with local administrations to check each student’s circumstances, including his or her family’s finances and learning capacity. He also suggested supportive policies like tuition remission for students from needy families and ways to convince parents to encourage their children to return to school. Local schools needed to upgrade their facilities and supply more government funded tutoring to needy students during summer holidays and weekends, he said. According to Hien, the ministry would also custom fit primary, secondary and high school durations to suit different provinces and areas. In ethnic minorities for instance, the primary level could be lengthened to six years instead of five, because first grade students still don’t know how to speak fluent Vietnamese. The ministry has also given primary and high school authorities the right to design their own curriculum suitable for their students. Also the "Open academic year" policy, allows different areas to set holidays in accordance with local weather conditions, but no localities lengthened their academic year to after June 30, he added. \^/

This is part of the ministry’s efforts to ease study programs for disadvantaged areas. Hien said, however, "schools are not allowed to accept students’ bad results." While the new campaign was supposed to be the main reason for this year’s soaring number of dropouts, the educational authorities in many areas were confused about implementing the "Say No to Students in Wrong Grades" policy, the local Saigon Giai Phong newspaper reported. "They are trying to convince students to resume studying, but this is a critical problem which needs to be directed by the ministry in a more positive and effective way," the paper reported. According to educational experts, the campaign fails to address current problems like the shortage of teachers. The campaign asked teachers to be more active and invest more in teaching, but they were already in charge of too much work, the head of the central province of Ha Tinh Department of Education and Training, Le Duc Tuy, said. The head of the southern Tay Ninh Province’s the Department of Education and Training, Vu Hien Phuong, said the campaign had no solutions for students who received tutoring but still failed. \^/

National University Entrance Exams in Vietnam

The National University Entrance Exam is a big deal in Vietnam as it is throughout Asia. Mai Phuong wrote in Nien, “As many as 800,000 hopefuls sit for their university entrance exams vying for a spot in Vietnam’s competitive postsecondary education system. Math and Physics are the examinations on the first day of exams for the students, hosted at 40,000 examination centers throughout the country. As usual this year, the university entrance exams have two sessions. The first session on July 4 and 5 is for A section science students, and the second on July 9 and 10 for B, C, D sections, covering Medicine, Linguistics, and English studies respectively. With the exams, many supervisors must once again tackle the major issues at exam time, confirming student identities taking part in the exams, and monitoring the exams in process to discourage cheating. The exams are considered a tuning point in a students’ life, as society in Vietnam has a long tradition of excellence in education, and holds a university degree highly, above all other education. This has partly contributed to the lack of blue-collar workers in the economy, as many students chase a seat in post-secondary education, rather than opt for the more employable vocational training, or a job parallel to their ability. [Source: Mai Phuong, Nien, July 4, 2005 /|\]

In 2003, the first phase of the university selection took place on July 4, with more than 460,000 candidates participating. Around 477,000 young people were registered in the second phase of the exam session to obtain a seat in one of the 74 universities and colleges in the country. [Source: ABC Radio Australia, July 10, 2003]

In 2012, Hiep Pham reported: “Vietnamese school-leavers will sit national university entrance examinations that start on 4 July and last for almost a week, as they compete for places at some 58 universities and colleges, amid ongoing discussion that the exam system needs reform. The nationwide exam is known as the ‘three commons’. All candidates tackle the same exam questions on the same dates and receive the results on the same date. According to the Ministry of Education and Training, 604,281 students will sit the exam this year. But the overall number of higher education applications is down by 7.7 percent compared to last year – students on average make three to four applications to hedge their bets based on universities’ cut-off marks. [Source: Hiep Pham, July 1, 2012 ***]

“Hanoi, with the highest number of applications in the country at 164,000, is down 2,000 compared to 2011. In Thanh Hoa province the number of applications, 79,130 this year, has dropped by 11,000. In 2010 the overall number of applications fell by 12 percent, from 2.13 million to 1.87 million. Under the current system, candidates submit several applications to universities in April and then wait for the cut-off marks for each university to be announced while they are preparing for the exam. Students only make the final decision, just before the exam date, about which university to have their entrance exam marked at. ***

“But allowing multiple registrations can be costly for universities. Pham Thai Son, head of the education and training department of the University of Food Industry in Ho Chi Minh City, said the institution had to rent an extra 500 examination rooms to accommodate 22,000 students registered to take the exam. But not all of them would actually take the exam there. “We will lose about VND600 million (US$28,680) this session, and this doesn't include the fees we must pay for the people who mark the exams. At the end of this session we expect the losses to reach into the billions [of dong],” he told official media in June. ***

“The fee for taking exams is only VND67,000 (US$3.20) per student, and universities and colleges are reluctant to raise the fees to help cover their additional costs for fear that they will lose promising students, officials said. In the past, universities have called on the ministry to provide additional resources for the exam season. This year both the ministry and provincial governments said they had improved guidance and support programmes for candidates to help them choose universities and reduce the number of speculative applications. ***

“At the other end of the scale, some universities have said they cannot attract enough enrolments because, prior to the exam, candidates tend to apply to the trusted top public universities, which also have lower tuition fees. Some newly established or private universities receive very low numbers of applications. Some experts have warned that more education institutions could go bankrupt unless the system is changed. To counter this, students who fail to gain their first choice have been allowed since 2005 to apply to other universities in a second round organised by the ministry in September or early October or even, in some years, a third round in November. ***

Vietnam's Exam Season

Kay Johnson wrote in Time magazine: “A visitor to Hanoi University in July might be forgiven for thinking the tree-shaded campus was preparing for a riot. Moments after a school bell rings out, there is a grating sound as a tall, metal barricade is rolled into place. Dozens of police and uniformed security officials assume positions guarding the entrances to the campus, and students are searched for mobile phones and other forbidden objects as they enter classroom. [Source: Kay Johnson, Time magazine, July 12, 2007 ==]

“The reason for this heightened security on campus? It's exam time, and the authorities are taking extraordinary measures to guard against cheating on high-stakes university-entrance exams. When the testing concludes July 16, a total of 1.8 million would-be scholars will have taken the entry exam in the hope of landing one of only 300,000 spots in colleges nationwide. That pressure gives students an incentive to seek any edge they can. Hanoi's 940-year-old Temple of Literature has been jammed this month with exam-takers burning incense for good luck. Some students eat "lucky meals" of green beans for breakfast on the big day. (The word for bean also means "passing" in Vietnamese.) ==

“Other students, though, seek help from more than green beans: In recent years, entrance-exam fraud has been highly publicized in local media. Last year, two dozen students were caught being fed answers through Bluetooth headsets concealed under wigs. Earlier this month, police busted a ring issuing fake IDs to university students who were to take the test for struggling prospective scholars. The price? $2,500 — more than twice Vietnam's average annual wage. In response to concerns over cheating, authorities have beefed up security, calling in local police and even the Public Security ministry to guard exam sites. ==

One Third of All Vietnam High School Students Fail Graduation Exams

In 2007, Associated Press reported: “One third of Vietnam's high school students failed their graduation exams, a year after the country declared war on cheating on the tests, state media reported Monday. The Labor newspaper quoted a report by the Ministry of Education and Training as saying that only 67.5 percent of the students passed their graduation exams, down from 92 percent last year. The southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City had the highest success rate, with 95 percent of its students passing the exams. Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, ranked fourth with 86 percent. The northern province of Tuyen Quang finished at the bottom of Vietnam's 64 cities and provinces, with only 14 percent of its students passing the exams, the newspaper said. Ministry officials were not available for comment. [Source: The Associated Press, June 18, 2007]

The ministry sent some 6,000 officials on inspection missions to police the national graduation exams taken in late May. The roughly 320,000 students who failed their exams will retake them in late August, the newspaper said.

One mental health facility is treating up to 75 students each month, a figure which doubles during examination periods and which health professionals attribute to heavy study loads, the high expectations of parents for educational success, and an increasing lack of harmony at home. [Source: The South China Morning Post, January 2, 2001]

Cheating on the University Entrance Exam

In July 2003, ABC Radio Australia reported: “More than 1,000 candidates have been suspended from the second phase of Vietnam's university entrance examinations after they were found to be cheating. Vietnamese police busted a network accused of recruiting high-flying students to take the place of around 50 other candidates. Each candidate paid to have someone else take the selection exams. The network exchanged the candidates by doctoring their identification cards and university applications files. Around a million students take entrance exams to universities each year. [Source: ABC Radio Australia, July 10, 2003]

In July 2006, Bill Hayton of BBC News reported: “ Newspapers have printed dozens of examples of dishonesty, and police have uncovered sophisticated networks. One teacher even went as far as videoing his own pupils to expose their activities. Stung by criticism, the government has denounced cheating as a disease and announced action to tackle the problem. But the pressures to cheat - ranging from parental expectations to the system of awarding scholarships to top students - remain strong. [Source: By Bill Hayton, BBC News, July 17, 2006 //\\]

In June 2006 “Do Viet Khoa was an ordinary school teacher in a small town south of the capital. But then national television broadcast his video of students cheating in their high school graduation exams and eventually, after some delay and embarrassment, he was hailed as a hero by the minister of education. There is almost an epidemic of cheating in Vietnam. In one province, which announced a 99 percent pass rate, mobs of students were filmed throwing answer sheets over school walls. //\\

“The government has since disciplined eight officials. In the most sophisticated scam yet discovered, police rounded up a gang using long wigs and mobile phone earpieces to pass on answers to students in university entrance exams. Educationalists say the problem of cheating is exacerbated by Vietnam's system of learning, which requires students to memorise huge quantities of facts and repeat them in the exam. At the moment the desire of students to use almost any means to do well seems greater than the ability of education authorities to stop them. //\\

Cheating Scandal in Ha Tay Province

Academic cheating is said to be common in Vietnam. Before important exams, students line up at photocopy shops reducing their crib sheets to easy-to-hide sizes. The slang term for crib sheet is phao , which means lifebuoy.

In June 2006, Hoang Bao wrote in Thanh Nien: “A top inspector rejected an elaboration on scandals in northern Ha Tay province where a recent graduation exam had its questions divulged prior to the tests, among other allegations. Tran Ba Giao, deputy chief from the education ministry’ inspectorate told the press Monday the elaboration was inadequate. He added the ministry was looking for signs of foul play and could re-mark certain papers. [Source: Hoang Bao, Thanh Nien, June 19, 2006 \=\]

“The scandals started when the press ran photos of mobs climbing up school-walls and threw exam answers to the candidates just before the exam started late last month and early this month, suggesting the exam questions were known in advance. A source said the education ministry had asked the public security ministry to look into why local police, supervisors and guardians did nothing when the mobs were clearly committing illegal acts. Yet the Ha Tay education department still told the ministry that it "had not uncovered any questions-disclosure case." \=\

“Concerning a scandal where many supervisors received VND400,000 ($25) each at one exam region, the department said "there is no suggestion or directive from the schools". "It is just voluntary contribution from the examinees’ parents to the supervisors during the summer." Regarding the loss of answer sheets at a multiple-choice test in another exam region, the department laid the blame on the region head and the headmaster of the school. However, the headmaster had just assumed his position, the department added. The loss resulted in 192 examinees forgoing standard sheets and resorting to photocopies which were later marked by hand as the marking machine could not operate on the photocopies. Of 79 exam regions in the province, only 8 failed to meet ministry standards," the department said. The province has led the nation in terms of pass rates in the exam, with 99.27 percent of examinees passed. The exam held early this month is probably the most important test during pre-tertiary levels as only successful candidates get a ticket to university. \=\

Hoang Phuong wrote in Thanh Nien, “Another scandal has erupted in Vietnam after officials supervising high school graduation exams and their superiors were accused of allowing students to cheat for a price. After similar events recently in the north, 536 students in the southern Tien Giang province were found to have written the same answers in the exam. Though the deputy director of the province’s education department denied all corruption allegations, he said supervisors took money from examinees and their parents. [Source: Hoang Phuong, Thanh Nien, June 30, 2006 ^^^]

But one supervisor said, "After an inspector from the education ministry found an examinee had brought crib sheets into the exam room, he merely asked us to confiscate the sheets and said nothing about punishing the offender." "When even inspectors from the central government are not resolute, to whom can we supervisors turn to?" Thirty minutes after the test, a supervisor at another venue said he had found a hole in the wall possibly used to pass across crib sheets. He had then discovered that all 24 students in the room carried crib sheets. After confiscating them, he had reported to an official but in vain. Earlier, a supervisor who asked to remain anonymous said two people had approached him, asking him to "help the examinees pass the exam". Subsequently, he had found all the examinees in his room cheating and reported it. He was asked to "Take it easy". "Let the students cheat as top officials have unanimously permitted it," he had been told. ^^^

Vietnam Teachers Taking 'Exam Bribes'

In November 2007, the BBC reported: “A group of 26 teachers and education officers are being tried in Vietnam accused of taking bribes from pupils. The defendants have been charged with accepting tens of thousands of dollars from more than 1,700 students in return for improving their results. The trial, in the southern Bac Lieu province, comes after a government campaign against rampant cheating. Last year dozens of students were caught with mobile phones concealed in their clothes during exams. Court official Tran Van Khang told Thanh Nien newspaper that the defendants are charged with accepting bribes totalling 533 million dong ($33,000). [Source: BBC News, November 27, 2007 />/]

Police were alerted to the alleged mass fraud in June 2006, when a teacher was arrested and accused of taking bribes from 11 students in return for passing them, the paper reported. Exam results for the province were rechecked and the declared scores were found to be significantly higher than the actual figures, Thanh Nien said. Vietnam has had recurring difficulties with exam cheating and falsified results. Hoang Nguyen, from the BBC Vietnamese Service, says the problems are partly due to a trend known as "achievement syndrome", where district officials stand to lose their jobs if exam results are poor. />/

“A video emerged last year of a classroom of students apparently making telephone calls and helping each other with questions during their university entrance exams. Education minister Nguyen Thien Nhanh later announced a crackdown on cheating and the falsification of exam results, and an end to achievement syndrome. />/

Vietnam Cracks down on Rampant Exam Cheating

Tran Thi Minh Ha of Agence France Presse wrote: “Vietnam's leaders have pledged to crack down on widespread cheating in academic exams after some 900 fraud cases were uncovered in university entrance tests. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung condemned the "disease of chasing academic achievement" through cheating, days after police broke up a ring that fed students answers via mobile phone earpieces hidden under long wigs. Dung's education minister, Nguyen Thien Nhan, this week ordered provincial education authorities to combat the worsening trend, which was also affecting schools, calling it "a crushing calamity for the nation as a whole." [Source: Tran Thi Minh Ha, Agence France Presse, July 13, 2006]

Students are typically under intense pressure to memorise vast amounts of information for the exams in a Confucian society that places a high value on education. A growing number, however, have developed methods of cheating that are increasingly creative and high-tech. In the just-ended annual season of national university and college entrance exams, officials and police uncovered some 900 cases of exam fraud and arrested several people involved, state media has reported. In the ring broken up last week in Hanoi, with at least four arrests, a network equipped dozens of students with bluetooth wireless mobile phone headsets concealed under wigs to feed them answers to a banking institute exam.

In the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, several students were disqualified after being caught with answers written on their hands or on paper using an ink that is only visible at a certain angle to the light. In central Binh Dinh province, students apparantly relied on more traditional cheating methods, police discovered after finding 300 kilograms of cheat-sheets written on tiny scraps of paper in a photocopy shop raid. As the public spotlight has fallen on the cheats, even a member of the ruling Communist Party's powerful Central Committee has been penalised for violating exam rules, in May at the National Administration Institute.

Dao Ngoc Dung, the first secretary of the Central Youth Union, used writing paper not authorised by supervisors in a postgraduate exam. Authorities said they would reduce his mark by half. "Cheating is now an epidemic in Vietnam," one university lecturer told AFP. "Students cheat, from secondary school to gaining doctorates. It is like a fashion in society. Everybody wants to prove that they are academically good but, in fact, not all of them have real talent."

The education minister, who took office in a reshuffle last month, has vowed to put an end to the "public trickery" and announced a campaign from July 31 euphemistically called "Say No to Negative Phenomena in Exams." To stress the point, he visited Wednesday a high school teacher in northern Ha Tay province who has been praised for exposing students, parents and teachers involved in large-scale high school graduation exam fraud last month. Do Viet Khoa, 38, has been hailed in local newspapers and by the community -- but he has also received threats of violent retaliation from some teachers and parents.

Reforming the National University Entrance Exam System

Hiep Pham reported: “From 2020, when a new university law comes into effect, university entrance exams will only be held at top universities, allowing other universities and colleges to select students based on school records. This was first made public last year when Bui Van Ga, the vice-minister of education, said during a press conference in Hanoi that by 2020, when the higher education system has the capacity to provide about four million places, the ministry-administered exam may be removed, except for some elite programmes. The ministry would “only monitor the outcome through a quality assurance system”, Ga said. [Source: Hiep Pham, July 1, 2012 ***]

“Under an interim proposal released in February, the ‘three commons’ will continue until 2015 and key universities will be asked to submit new enrolment plans to the ministry for approval before that date. During the past academic year, the ministry also encouraged several top universities to pilot a separate exam. But according to some university leaders, the government still appears reluctant to provide all universities with the autonomy needed to set up their own admissions schemes. ***

“Prior to 2002, Vietnamese higher education institutions had full responsibility for entrance examinations. But the downside was more cheating and red tape during the selection process, which led to the ministry stepping in to set up the current system. Bui Ngoc Son, vice-rector of Foreign Trade University, said the ‘three commons’ provided a “balanced solution” in terms of both the quality and cost of the exam. A meeting of 400 university rectors, organised by the ministry in February, supported the removal of the ‘three commons’ but only in the long run. Many are still sceptical, saying it is not the first time that the ministry has proposed a timetable for change, but later cancelled it. Others said making proposals for reform without proper consultations merely makes students and their families anxious. ***

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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