The Vietnamese have a high respect for learning, inherited in part from their long domination by the Chinese. Under Confucianism, education was essential for admission to the ruling class of scholar-officials, the mandarinate. Under French rule, even though Vietnamese were excluded from the colonial power elite, education was a requisite for employment in the colonial civil service and for other white-collar, high-status jobs. In divided Vietnam, education continued to be a channel for social mobility in both the North and the South. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Vietnamese are crazy about education. Young adults attend English classes and computer courses after they finish work. University students begin working on a second degree before finishing their first one. Stanley Karnow wrote in Smithsonian magazine: "Like other Asians, who traditionally revere scholars, they value learning. They also see education as both the path to success and consistent with their sense of filial piety, the way to bring esteem to their family." One Vietnamese-American student told Karnow: My parents "are really proud of me. So I have to keep improving, even if there is no room for improvement. I also feel their pressure. Just study, they say. I can't wash the dishes, mow the lawn or take a summer job. Their entire goal is to see me succeed. Vietnamese-Americans are among the best-performing immigrant groups in American schools. In a school in Santa Ana, California even though Vietnamese make only 15 percent of the student body, 26 of the top 33 students in 1992 were Vietnamese.

Traditionally, education has been of great importance to the Vietnamese, and the State has always set aside a significant portion of its budget for education. Teachers enjoy great respect and prestige in Vietnamese society. In Vietnam the student-teacher relationship retains much of the quality of a son's respect for his father's wisdom and of father's concern for his son's welfare. The respect that students show to the teachers is also evident in linguistic behavior. The terms of address that students use in speaking to their teachers are the same as those they use in speaking to their parents.

In 2003 Vietnam’s literacy rate was 94 percent, including 95.8 percent for men and 92.3 percent for women. However, educational attainment was less impressive. 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. *

Education expenditures: 6.6 percent of GDP (2010), country comparison to the world: 29. Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): total population: 94 percent; male: 96.1 percent female: 92 percent (2002 est.). School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 10 years; male: 11 years; female: 10 years (2001). [Source: CIA World Factbook **]

Education in Vietnam (student population; teacher population; number of schools/ institutions in 2004): A) Preschools: 2,586,700; 106,666; 10,104. B) Primary: 8,350,200; 362,627; 14,346. C) Secondary: 9,228,300; 379,657; 12,013. D) Vocational: 1,145100; 18,177; 526. E) Higher education: 1,032400; 39,985; 214. F) Postgraduate: 33,000; 147. [Source: SRV MOET, 2004]

Vietnam’s Educational Tradition

Because of 1000 years under the domination of Chinese, there are no records which indicate that a formal education system in Viet Nam was established Before Christ or even under the Chinese conquers years from 207 B.C. to A.D. 939. However, Chinese historical documents recorded many excellent Vietnamese scholars who graduated in China with a doctoral degree and worked for Chinese Royalty, such as Ly Cam, Ly Tien and Truong Trong. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

In 939 Emperor Ngo Quyen expelled the Chinese invaders and declared Vietnamese independence. But the first two dynasties Ngo and Dinh were not on throne so long, and were more concerned with national than education. Ly Cong Uan, the founder king of the Ly dynasty was educated in a pagoda.

During the Ly dynasty, the fundamental educational system was officially improved. King Ly Thanh Ton was credited with building the Temple of Literatures at the ancient Capital of Thang Long to encourage people to appreciate education. In 1075 the first exam was held under the order of King Ly Nhan Ton to select scholars for the mandarin bureaucracy. Quoc Tu Giam, Vietnam’s first university, was built 1076. There were also many private schools taught by prominent professors such as Chu Van An, Le Quy Don, Nguyen Binh Khiem, Phung Khac Khoan, and Vo Truong Toan. The students only studied literature and the ancient history of China and Viet Nam for the entirety of their schooling. Later on, the Public Administration curriculum was added to the program. When the Ho Royal family ruled the country, students were taught simple mathematics.

The Vietnamese educational system has evolved through six distinct stages, which correspond to the main phases of the nation’s history. During the earliest stage (939– 1858), traditional education profoundly bore the imprint of Chinese civilisation. As a result of a millennium under Chinese domination (111 B.C. to 939 AD), the intellectual and cultural patterns of the Vietnamese society were strongly influenced by the Chinese philosophies of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Consequently, traditional education focused on the teaching of Confucian thoughts and the principles of self-cultivation of virtues, unity of man and heaven, relevance of social order and political harmony. By contrast, the education system during the period 1858–1945 was based upon the French colonial assimilation policy. It is worth mentioning that, during the French influence, Quoc Ngu (national language), present-day Vietnamese, a Romanised script of the spoken Vietnamese language, was created by Western Catholic missionaries who subsequently spread Catholic influences in Vietnamese cultures. During the subsequent period 1945–1954, education under the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) operated amid the gunfire of nationalist struggles against Japan and then France for independence.

Education in Vietnam Under French Rule

French efforts at education in the early decades of colonial rule were negligible. A few government quoc ngu schools were established along with an Ecole Normale to train Vietnamese clerks and interpreters. A few Vietnamese from wealthy families, their numbers rising to about ninety by 1870, were sent to France to study. Three lycees (secondary schools), located in Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon, were opened in the early 1900s, using French as the language of instruction. The number of quoc ngu elementary schools was gradually increased, but even by 1925 it was estimated that no more than one school-age child in ten was receiving schooling. As a result, Vietnam's high degree of literacy declined precipitously during the colonial period. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The education system was modified. Three levels of general education, infant, primary, and secondary, were established. The old examination system was abolished in 1915, and schools for training administrative officers in the French style were officially launched in 1917. The University of Hanoi, founded in 1907 to provide an alternative for Vietnamese students beginning to flock to Japan, was closed for a decade the following year because of fear of student involvement in a 1908 uprising in Hanoi. *

In Tonkin and Annam, traditional education based on Chinese classical literature continued to flourish well into the twentieth century despite French efforts to discourage it. The triennial examinations were abolished in 1915 in Tonkin and in 1918 in Annam. China, which had always served as a source of teaching materials and texts, by the turn of century was beginning to be a source of reformist literature and revolutionary ideas. Materials filtering in from China included both Chinese texts and translations of Western classics, which were copied and spread from province to province. *

Education in Vietnam in the 20th Century

From 1918 until now, Vietnam’s education program has adopted the western educational system with three levels: elementary, high school, and college. At all levels, the Vietnamese National Writing (Quoc Ngu) is officially used. Students had (and still do have) the opportunity to learn literature, history, philosophy, law, science, math, medicine and as well as other languages. The first university that applied the western educational system was built in Northern Viet Nam, Hanoi, in 1919 (medicine school) and 1933 (law school). Toward 1975, the estimated population in Southern Viet Nam was 25 million people, but there were 3 state universities built in cities of Hue, Saigon, Can Tho. In parallel with the state universities, four private universities were also built: Three in Saigon were Van Hanh, Minh Duc, Tri Hanh Universities. One in Dalat was named after the city. They all offered various choices in curriculum similar to most modern universities around the world. In addition, each year thousands of Vietnamese students studied abroad in countries such as the United States, France, Germany and Australia. [Source: ]

Before the 1950s, poverty was a major impediment to learning, and secondary and higher education were beyond the reach of all but a small number of upper class people. Subsequently, however, rival regimes in Hanoi and Saigon broadened educational opportunities. Both governments accomplished this despite the shortage of teachers, textbooks, equipment, and classrooms and despite the disruptions of war in the 1960s and early 1970s. The school system was originally patterned after the French model, but the curriculum was revised to give more emphasis to Vietnamese history, language, and literature and, in Hanoi, to the teaching of revolutionary ethics and Marxism-Leninism. [Source: Library of Congress]

Elite Girls School in Vietnam in the 1960s

The period 1954–1975, during which Vietnam was split into two opposing states, witnessed two completely different systems of education: the North followed the Soviet model, while the South adopted a mixed American and French model.

Describing Trung Vuong school—the Radcliffe of Vietnamese high schools, Darragh Johnson wrote in Washington Post, “ Built by the French, the school — which started in Hanoi but moved to Saigon in the 1950s — was once used as a government building, complete with high walls and a huge wooden front gate. It was permeated by a strict air of discipline, and the walls seemed designed to keep out the prying eyes of boys, so that sometimes, it could seem like a convent. It sat at the end of a dead-end street, across from the zoo, and was surrounded, KieuThu says, by "trees, flowers and monkeys. We had the luxury of a lot of nature." [Source: Darragh Johnson, Washington Post, October 20, 2007 ]

On the students that went there in the 1960s, Johnson wrote: “All are part of a Vietnamese elite, both educational and otherwise. Once upon a time, when the girls were small and nearing sixth grade, they had to pass rigorous tests and compete with thousands across the country to gain admittance. After they were accepted, many of their families relocated from other parts of Vietnam to live near the school — that's the kind of reputation Trung Vuong enjoyed. At least one of KieuThu's classmates was descended from Vietnamese royalty. Another was the daughter of the military's top official.

Education in Vietnam After the Vietnam War

In the years after 1975, all public and private schools in the South were taken over by the state as a first step toward integration into a unified socialist school system. Thousands of teachers were sent from the North to direct and supervise the process of transition, and former teachers under the Saigon regime were allowed to continue their work only after they had completed "special courses" designed to expose "the ideological and cultural poisoning of which they had been victims for twenty years." [Source: Library of Congress]

The educational system was based on reforms announced in January 1979 that were designed to make education more relevant to the nation's economic and social needs. These reforms combined theory with practical application and emphasized the training of skilled workers, technicians, and managers. The reforms also stressed the need to develop the country's scientific and technological levels of achievement until they were comparable to international levels in order to assist Vietnam in expanding its technical cooperation with foreign countries in general and socialist countries in particular. *

The 1979 reforms were implemented in stages beginning in the 1981-82 school year (September to August). By 1985 the northern and southern schools had been integrated into one system, new textbooks had been distributed throughout the country, and the curriculum had been made uniform for the first time. The government also tried to make the first nine years of general education compulsory, despite the continuing shortage of teachers, school buildings, and equipment, particularly modern equipment for teaching applied sciences. The low morale of underpaid teachers with low job status complicated these attempts. *

The perennial shortage of money presented another stumbling block in education. In order to address the problem, the 1979 reforms called on agricultural cooperatives and even "private citizens" to make contributions to local schools and to participate in "a movement for self-supply of teaching aids." In an apparent effort to utilize local resources for educational development, the government assigned "people's educational councils," set up at the grass-roots level, to undertake the task. Composed of representatives of the school, parents, local administration, and various mass organizations, these councils were designed to promote more productive relations between the school and the local community. *

Vietnam took part in international student exchange and cooperation programs in the fields of education and technical training, principally with the Soviet Union and with other communist countries (excluding China). Nhan Dan reported in 1983 that Vietnamese and Soviet linguists had compiled textbooks for Vietnamese secondary general education schools and that they had also begun a similar project in Russian for use in Vietnamese colleges. The Soviets also assisted the Vietnamese in publishing scientific and technical dictionaries. In 1984 a Soviet source reported that, under the Soviet program of educational assistance that had begun in 1959, about 60,000 Vietnamese specialists and skilled workers had been trained in addition to 18,000 vocational students at the college and secondary school levels. As of mid-1986, Vietnam had "cooperative ties" with 15 Soviet universities. *

Education in Vietnam in the 1980s and 90s

In 1986 the reforms initiated in 1979 remained in the trial and error stage, but the educational system was considerably improved. Illiteracy was declining, and about 2.5 million children were being admitted to school annually. The Vietnamese report that in 1986 there were 3 million children enrolled in child-care centers and kindergartens, close to 12 million students in general education schools, and more than 300,000 students in vocational and professional schools and colleges. Scientific and technical cadres numbered more than 1 million. Nhan Dan reported in September 1986 that schools were shifting from literary education to literary, ethical, and vocational education, in accordance with the goals established by the 1979 reforms. The quality of education, however, remained low. Material and technical support for education were far from adequate, student absenteeism and the dropout rate were high, teachers continued to face difficult personal economic circumstances, and students and teachers in general failed to embrace the socialist ideals and practices the regime encouraged. *

In April 1986, Reform Commission head Hoang Xuan Tuy related that two-thirds of preschool aged children had not yet enrolled in school, that elementary and junior-high-school education in the highlands and in the Mekong River Delta was inadequate; that instruction in general was still oriented toward purely academic subjects and theory divorced from practical application. The majority of general education students, he added, were preoccupied with college entrance; and vocational schools, professional schools, and colleges had yet to restructure their curricula and training programs or to formulate plans for scientific research and experimentation. In Hoang's assessment, such shortcomings were symptomatic of a very low level of financial and human resource investment in education that was derived from the party and the government's failure to recognize the importance of "the human factor" and the fundamental role of education in socioeconomic development. *

During the period between 1975 and 1986, education was then characterised by a highly centralised management system in a unified nation, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV). Finally, in the contemporary period since 1987, the national education system has undergone tremendous reforms since doi moi has been launched and has allowed a market- oriented economy to emerge in the country. Doi moi , literally translated as ‘to make a change’, was introduced by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) at its Sixth Congress in December 1986 (CPV 452 D. H. Doan 1996), about the same time as the Soviet Union began perestroika . The party leadership regarded it as a new policy, essential not only for the nation’s economic survival, but also for the necessary political and social renewal in order to meet the country’s development needs in the future. [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:, Journal of Moral Education]

Literacy in Vietnam

Vietnam has one of the world's highest literacy rates. Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): total population: 94 percent; male: 96.1 percent; female: 92 percent (2002 est.). School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 10 years; male: 11 years; female: 10 years (2001). [Source: CIA World Factbook **]

In 2003 Vietnam’s literacy rate was 94 percent, including 95.8 percent for men and 92.3 percent for women. However, educational attainment was less impressive. 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. 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.

The literacy rate was 88 percent in 1989 going down. A government report estimated that two million people between 18 and 35 can't couldn’t read or write. This was a sharp decline from 1975. Although access to higher levels of education has been limited, the introduction of near-universal primary education has produced a high literacy rate. According to the 1999 World Bank figures, 83 percent of the population over 15 years old was literate. [The meaning of "literate" is not specified, whether this means able to write one’s name, or able to read a newspaper.] In rural areas, the education system has been nearly as well developed as in urban areas, particularly in the north: 87 percent of the rural population was literate in 1989 compared with 95 percent of the urban population. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality */ ]

Vietnam Education System

A million new students enter the education system every year. Education in Vietnam (student population; teacher population; number of schools/ institutions in 2004): A) Preschools: 2,586,700; 106,666; 10,104. B) Primary: 8,350,200; 362,627; 14,346. C) Secondary: 9,228,300; 379,657; 12,013. D) Vocational: 1,145100; 18,177; 526. E) Higher education: 1,032400; 39,985; 214. F) Postgraduate: 33,000; 147. [Source: SRV MOET, 2004]

The overall objective of education, as stated in the Education Law implemented in 1998 is to produce ‘fully developed Vietnamese citizens. These must acquire morals, knowledge, good health, aesthetic sense, occupation, and loyalty towards national independence and socialism; who nourish personality and capability essential to fulfil the mission of building and protecting the country’ (SRV MOET, 2004c, Chapter One, Article 2). [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:, Journal of Moral Education |^|]

The educational system in Vietnam relies not only on the national budget but also on tuition fees contributed by learners. The national education system nowadays comprises five levels: preschool education (five years, ages 3–5); primary education (five years, ages 6–10); secondary education (seven years, ages 11–18); higher education and postgraduate education. In addition, vocational education and training provides educational opportunities for those secondary school leavers who are unable to enter higher education [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:, Journal of Moral Education |^|]

Based on sources of financial support, educational institutions fall into four categories. First, public or state-run (cong lap ) institutions are funded by the government. The majority of staff working in public schools are government officers or permanent staff members. Second, semi-public (ban cong ) institutions are provided with rudimentary premises by the State. Third, people-founded (dan lap ) schools are created and managed by a social organization and excluded from State- funding schemes. Lastly, private (tu thuc ) schools or universities are financed and administered completely by individuals or groups of individuals. These forms of institutions are found in all levels of the educational system. Regarding the policy-making system, the central government, through the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) and its departments, formulates and adopts education policies. In effect, education reforms are based on the overall. |^|

The Vietnamese education system follows guidelines and agenda promulgated by the Central Committee and the Politburo of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). In other words, education policies are formulated, revised and updated in accordance with the State’s general action plans defined at the CPV national congresses and the Vietnamese National Assembly manifestos every five years. In particular, the National Assembly also promulgates the laws on education and makes decisions concerning budgetary and strategic plans for educational development. Under this centralised management structure, each level of the education system is subject to a different degree of central control over the curriculum. The primary school and secondary school curricula are national and compulsory and, therefore, centrally controlled. The number of hours, curriculum content and textbooks are dictated by the MOET. Central control over the curriculum consequently enforces common practices and standards across the whole system, and is associated with the adoption of a national system of qualifications. In higher education, the under- graduate and postgraduate curricula also follow the uniform frameworks set by the MOET, which determine the total number of credits and the percentage of core courses, required courses and specialised courses for each field of study. Control is centralised particularly in respect of required courses, such as Marxist-Leninist political sciences, in terms of the number of hours and the teaching content. In the following sections, the centralised control of the MOET over the curriculum will be analysed in detail in relation to moral education. |^|

In rural areas, the education system has been nearly as well developed as in urban areas, particularly in the north: 87 percent of the rural population was literate in 1989 compared with 95 percent of the urban population. In the 1990s, only $41 a year was spent on each high school student. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality */ ]

Ranking of education systems and worker productivity in Asia by Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy: 1) South Korea; 2) Singapore; 3) Japan; 4) Taiwan; 5) India; 6) China; 7) Malaysia; 8) Hong Kong; 9) the Philippines; 10) Thailand; 11) Vietnam; 12) Indonesia

Moral Education in Vietnamese Schools

In his paper “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system,” Dung Hue Doan of Nong Lam University wrote: “Vietnam has experienced the influences of different social standards and values of Confucianism, Communism and several major religions, such as Buddhism and Catholicism, and has also undergone tremendous social change in recent decades. Consequently, moral education in present-day Vietnam takes various forms and definitions. Nowadays, moral education is incorporated in the formal curriculum and taught as a single subject of study at all levels of the Vietnamese education system. The focus of moral education in primary schools is character and personality building. In secondary schools, the syllabuses focus on citizenship education, emphasising the notion of developing a socialist citizen. In higher education, the ideas of inculcating socialist thoughts and socialist principles are as important as building intellectual ability, thus, Marxist sciences and Ho Chi Minh thoughts are compulsory taught courses and make up 12 percent of total study hours in the undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum. [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:, Journal of Moral Education |^|]

Therefore, there are two different systems of morality existing in Vietnamese society – traditional morality and socialist morality. Traditional morality is transmitted through informal channels of education, such as family education and religious institutions, while socialist morality is enforced through formal channels of the national curriculum and in various social activities and movements. However, it is still a real challenge for the Vietnamese educational system to redefine the objectives and content of moral education in order to cope with the complexity of a fast-changing society. Introduction In almost all primary schools in Vietnam, the important role of moral teaching and learning in school life is constantly emphasised by the motto ‘ Tien hoc le, hau hoc van ’. The wording normally appears in a large red banner posted right at the main entrance. This Chinese-Vietnamese saying implicitly means that proper manners in human relations are the very first thing to be learnt at school, while knowledge and language are only secondary. Another common phrase that emphasises the role of morality is ‘ Hong – Chuyen ’. It literally means ‘red mind and expertise’. These are considered a pair of key qualities of social human beings that the socialist educational system aims to produce. ‘Red mind’ symbolises socialist ideology and values. Similarly, ‘talent and virtue’, ‘intellect and morality’ are other common combinations at all times associated with qualities of scholars, intellectuals and public administrators. |^|

‘Moral’ in the Vietnamese context is a broad term, relating to the practice, manners or conduct of human beings in relation to each other. Moral education is also associated with standards of behaviour justified by people as right and proper, and is to be conducted willingly without the interference of law. Moral education is also understood as perspectives, viewpoints and behaviour of people in such social relations as self in relation to other persons, groups and organizations (SRV MOET, 2004a, p. 69). Organization refers to the State, social-political organizations, religious bodies and so on. Moral education, therefore, takes various forms and has its definitions shaped by socio-political standards and values prevailing at the time. This article aims to explore the role and characteristics of moral education in contemporary Vietnam in the contexts of social changes and under the long-lasting impacts of different social values of Confucianism, Communism and several religions. |^|

Political Education in Vietnam

In his paper “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system,” Dung Hue Doan of Nong Lam University wrote: “Alongside traditional values, socialist morality emphasises the responsibility of the individual towards the nation as a socialist society through the respect of labor and observation of socialist principles. The socialist principles require the full commitment of individuals to the success of socialism. A socialist perspective is also enforced as the only philosophy of life. Because of its rigid view, socialist morality can only be transmitted and delivered through institutionalised channels, formal, obligatory and compulsory. However, this gives rise to quite a dilemma when the market economy has had a gradual impact on individual perspectives about values. In other words, personal achievement in terms of career and wealth are considered as life concerns and life goals by a large number of Vietnamese youth, as found in social research on the conception of ‘success’ of young graduates in Hanoi in 2000. This research concluded that ‘under the socialist regime, everybody could be successful as long as (s)he contributed to the collective and the general cause of building socialism. Now in the market economy, success is no longer an across-the- board notion defined by the socialist state. That is to say, success prior to the 1990s was a ‘‘nationalised’’ notion, but in the doi moi era it has been ‘‘privatised’’’ (Nguyen, 2004, p. 174). [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:, Journal of Moral Education |^|]

Besides formal lessons and compulsory courses on morality and politics given at school and university, people of all ages are regularly requested to participate in various social activities which are led by political movements and organizations, consistent either with their age groups or professions. These activities, ranging from contests to campaigns and movements, usually aim to review revolutionary traditions, to train young people to love and respect labor, to preserve socialist values and so on. Popular activities include singing contests to highlight revolutionary music, essay-writing contests on the revolutionary tradition of the Communist, and knowledge contests on the history and tradition of the Communist Party of Vietnam. It is the main job of the Trade Union and The Communist Youth Union in every workplace or residential area to play active roles in leading these activities. |^|

A report from the Chairman of the Trade Union in Quang Nam, a province in Central Vietnam, remarks that there are too many contests being organized, which consume time and money. Twelve contests required by the national Trade Union within nine months is viewed by this Chairman as a big waste of time and money (Nguyen, 2005). Campaigns and movements normally bear strong revolutionary values in their titles, such as ‘the movement of patriotism competition’ (phong trao thi dua yeu nuoc ), or ‘enriching the flame of revolutionary tradition’ (tiep lua truyen thong ). The former urges everyone in his or her own profession and workplace to perform his/her job to the best possible degree, and also to fulfil extra duties in order to contribute more to the cause of nation building. The latter particularly reminds young people to read and think more and more about national heroes and revolutionary soldiers, and to help families of dead soldiers and families which have made a great contribution to the success of the Communist Party. |^|

Self-Improvement Grading and Marxist-Leninism in Vietnamese Schools

In his paper “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system,” Dung Hue Doan of Nong Lam University wrote: “It is worth mentioning the system of grading, so-called self-improvement grades, used by the Office of Political Affairs to give ranking marks to every student for all extracurricular activities they participate in during each semester. Taking part in the Green Summer Campaign, for example, will give students high credit. Side by side with academic achievement, grades of self-improvement are the other important criteria qualifying students for selection for scholarships and grants. Despite all these tremendous efforts made by the Ministry of Education and Training, by the Office of Political Affairs at every university and by every single teacher of Marxist-Leninist subjects, higher education students are not really convinced that those subjects are necessary for their intellectual and moral development. [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:, Journal of Moral Education |^|]

“In contrast, they easily find the principles and ideologies taught in classroom are contradictory to what they experience in real life. For example, they live their real life in a growing market economy, an emerging consumer society, which accommodates a big gap between the poor and the rich, whereas they learn at school that socialist society ensures social equality for every individual. They also learn that workers and the working class shape the morality and power of the society; however, it is hard to trust the leadership capability of the working class. Recent research on young university graduates in Vietnam showed that by the 1990s not only had young people become anxious about getting rich, but the dream of getting rich had also become a common goal. In this context, young people, and university graduates in particular, seem to realise that achieving individual success by way of becoming wealthy professionals fits well with the overall national objectives, which are ‘wealthy people, strong country’ (Nguyen, 2004, p. 169). |^|

At postgraduate level, Marxist-Leninist Philosophy is still a compulsory subject that requires 60 study hours. It comes from the ideology that Marxist sciences serve as the foundation for all sciences, and that Marxist philosophy on scientific research provides the guiding methods for all types of scientific research studies. In effect, all research studies in social sciences need to make good reference to Marxist ideologies. It is therefore very common that most dissertations, theses and research papers start their research background section with lengthy pages about strategies and principles quoted from the Vietnamese Communist Party’s documents. Thus, higher education curricula have been under strong criticism from participants, teaching staff and the wider public for their over-emphasis on political subjects (Nguyen, 2004, p. 172). A study on the motives for overseas study among Vietnamese academics in 2000 found that the discouraging quality of the postgraduate education inside Vietnam has motivated a large number of university staff to seek overseas study. One of the perceived major shortcomings of the programmes is the requirement of many political subjects, viewed as irrelevant and time-consuming (Doan, 2000, p. 177). ^|

While political education and political objectives are overemphasised at all levels of the educational system, political courses have never been perceived as useful courses. Students have many reasons for why they dislike political subjects. The first reason is because the subjects are not seen as practical in their search for knowledge. Furthermore, political subjects are not relevant to students’ academic interests or to their future careers. Above all, the concepts of socialist morality seem to be prevailing within the scope of the courses only. Thus, Vietnamese educators and sociologists generally comment that moral education either has not been taught at all in school or has been taught improperly (Duong, 2000). The term ‘moral education’ has not been properly defined, and has actually been understood and implemented as political education.

Impact of Moral Education in Vietnam

In his paper “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system,” Dung Hue Doan of Nong Lam University wrote: “Vietnamese educators are also concerned that key social values are gradually deteriorating among the young generation (Vo, 2005). As Vietnamese society has begun to modernise, young Vietnamese also start searching for their own image and identity. Unfortunately, in order to present a particular image of themselves they have tended to imitate the image of models found in commercial photos and fashionable movies, which in fact only promote a luxurious, material life and earthly values. People also claim that the poor quality and inappropriate methods of moral education in the educational system have resulted in the increase of social problems, as well as the decrease of morality among young people (Nguyen, 2005). It is obvious that moral education in the formal curriculum has been mistakenly replaced by political and legal teaching, and therefore has very little impact on the development of personality, character and the morality of students (Duong, 2000). In other words, the objectives of education are not easily achieved, as expected in the Education Law (SRV MOET, 2004b, p. 23). [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:, Journal of Moral Education |^|]

There is growing concern about what kind of morality is being taught at school, given that a large number of young people seem to think more of what is to their own benefit than for others, and seem unfamiliar with Vietnamese traditional virtues. In fact, from Grade 10 in high school, students are taught about two different systems of morality existing in Vietnamese society, that is traditional morality and socialist morality. The first is associated with a system of virtues and values rooted in Confucianism. Confucian principles, which emphasise social order and the self- improvement of human beings, have had a long-lasting influence on Vietnamese culture, especially during the feudalist period. Social order under Confucianism is maintained by the implementation of strict principles of human relations, both in the family and society at large. In effect, Confucian principles enforce absolute respect and obedience of children to parents, wife to husband, subordinate to superior, subject to master, and students to teachers. Confucian values also emphasise the contribution and devotion of individuals towards the progress of the community. |^|

These principles have become part of traditional values as they ensure power relations and the progress of society. Besides, Confucian values also emphasise the superior role of male over female in the contexts of family, community and society. Family education somehow helps preserve these principles. Nguyen’s research shows that although young graduates in present-day Vietnam are very much concerned about success in terms of career and finance; they are also concerned about achieving harmony and happiness in various interpersonal relationships, particularly relationships with parents and love relationships. They carry on the traditions of maintaining strong links with parents and the family, respecting older people and obeying parents’ opinions with regard to marriage. Their notion of success in life would be incomplete and imbalanced if it resulted in only professional and financial gains and lacked aspects of family success (Nguyen, 2004, p. 174). |^|

In certain areas where religious institutions have strong influence on the thinking of the community, moral values are also conveyed through the teaching of religious texts and community activities. Morality and social values are transmitted through various channels: family, school and community. Christian churches and Buddhist pagodas usually provide a complete series of religious lessons for different age groups and different levels, which focus mostly on teaching morality. It is worth mentioning that religious education is not allowed in the formal education curriculum. However, churches and pagodas play a significant part in educating family cultures, community spirit and moral values among religious members. |^|

It is not very controversial to claim that family and community are more effective than school in transmitting traditional values among generations since family education has a long-established tradition in Vietnamese society. In addition, Vietnamese society has a rich family-oriented culture, therefore family education is highly valued. In particular, mothers and grandparents have important roles in shaping children’s personalities and helping them develop morally through family education. There is a popular saying emphasising the influence of mother and grandmother on children, that is ‘children’s mistakes come from mother, grand- children’s mistakes come from grandmother’ (Con hu tai me, chau hu tai ba ). Data from Nguyen’s research also suggest that amid social change, young people regard ingredients for success in family life as ‘still including traditional elements, such as filial piety through respectful, harmonious and loving relationships with the parents ... These underpin the emphasis on the institution of the family and its values’ (Nguyen, 2004, p. 173). However, in the process of the modernisation of society, where both parents work outside the house, family bonds become less solid. This situation is more obvious in nuclear families as children are sent to school and spend most of their time at school from a very young age. The education of children is put completely in the hands of teachers. The opportunity for family members to get together at family meals and engage in family education has also become rare in modern life. This raises widespread concern that the family structure is in danger of falling apart, and preserving traditional principles and values becomes more and more difficult in the present day. |^|

Fraud in the Vietnamese Education System

Huw Watkin wrote in South China Morning Post, “An investigation by the Ministry of Education has uncovered many counterfeit university degrees and some academics say corruption is seriously undermining Vietnam's education system. The ministry conducted a review of 662 state employees who claimed they had received qualifications from six universities in Ho Chi Minh City. One in 10 of the certificates were fakes. [Source: Huw Watkin, South China Morning Post, June 10, 2000 ]

“Many forgeries purported to be degrees awarded by the Ho Chi Minh City University of Law, with the investigation revealing that 32 of 180 documents examined were bogus. Sharper scrutiny of qualifications at that university has reportedly resulted in 62 expulsions this year, with 12 of those involved government employees undergoing training.

"Most of the culprits are senior officials who are either too busy or too lazy to study and 'treat their teachers nicely' in order to pass examinations," said Ha Dinh Duc, of Hanoi's University of Science. "They are worms eating the country — they have senior positions and serious responsibilities but no knowledge or expertise." He said it was a real threat to the country's development. A newspaper revealed that the qualifications of some administrators — most of them members of the communist party — were inadequate, with 65 percent of managers at state-owned-enterprises unable to read a balance sheet. Graft is reportedly becoming a concern with regard to high school graduation certificates and university entrance examinations, with investigations revealing that qualifications and high marks are increasingly easy to buy.

“The local press reported that the number of students getting high grades has increased dramatically since the Government decided in 1996 to allow bright students to enter university without sitting entrance examinations. "The decision allowed students achieving average grades of 80 percent over three consecutive years . . . [to] skip entrance examinations. In 1996 only 256 students nationwide met those conditions, but in 1998 the figure was 3,754," the report said. Diplomats and Vietnamese sources say even donor-funded overseas scholarships are subject to widespread nepotism, while anecdotal evidence suggests that sections of the flourishing private education sector are a sham, with students able to buy qualifications without attending classes.

“One student at a private college said it was common practice for teachers to offer examination papers for sale, allowing those with sufficient resources to avoid the disciplined hard work required of their less prosperous classmates. Police in Hanoi last month arrested one forger who confessed to having sold more than 200 fake degrees for about US$200 (HK$1,500) each. The officers also confiscated 62 bogus seals that were used to validate phoney university awards in civil engineering, finance and education.

Old-timers Refuse to Leave Education Posts

In March 2008, Thanh Nien reported: “The Ministry of Education and Training allowed more than 700 employees to work after they reached the state-imposed retirement age, according to Ministry of Interior inspectors. Some of the employees were left to work, several up to a decade past their retirement age, which means that younger employees have missed out on promotions. [Source: Thanh Nien, March 9, 2008 /*/]

“In Vietnam, public sector employees must retire at the ages of 55 and 60 for men and women respectively. According to the recent inspection figures, 41 percent of over 1,700 applicants for retirement at the ministry were over the permitted age between 2002 and 2007. Government regulations state that only senior experts involved in research activities and professors and assistant professors in research or teaching jobs are allowed to extend their retirement age. /*/

“But over the last five years, the Ministry of Education and Training has let many managerial-level staff who are not involved in research or teaching extend their retirement ages. During the reign of former Minister of Education and Training Nguyen Minh Hien, nearly 130 staff who did not meet extension requirements were allowed to continue working. /*/

“The problem was particularly bad at the Hanoi University of Polytechnics. The inspection officials said that many officials and managers simply wanted to stay in positions of power. But the inspection also revealed that smaller factors also contributed to the problem. At times, Ministry of Education and Training officials hesitated to request that their employees retire because they were formerly the officials’ teachers, according to inspectors. Another problem was that many retirement applications were held up at the ministry and not processed for several years. But investigators stressed that the main problem was that old-timers wanted to maintain their high positions past their retirement due dates.” /*/

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.

Last updated May 2014

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