Recently, there has been much fanfare in the media in Vietnam about the rising position of Vietnamese education in international rankings. The e-newspaper of the Vietnam Association of Colleges and Universities, the VNExpress e-newspaper, the Voice of Vietnam, and many others all point to different sources to testify and document the achievements that Vietnam has made.
Participating for the first time in PISA in 2012, Vietnam’s 15-year-olds performed on par with their peers in world-renowned Germany and Austria (OECD, 2012), and then on par with Australia in 2015 (FactsMaps, 2015). Although an official ranking of Vietnam is yet to be published for 2018, the country test scores were amazingly high.
Fig. 1 PISA score of Vietnamese students and International Average in 2018 (EVBN, 2018)
At the International Mathematics and Science Olympiad (IMSO) 14 in 2017, the Vietnam team of 12 students won 12 medals. Vietnamese students also won gold medals from the World Invention Creativity Olympic taking place in South Korea in 2019.
The Global Innovation Index (GII) had Vietnam at 71, 59, 47, 45, and 42 for 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively. The same index ranked Vietnam at 18 out of 126 countries for 2018 in terms of innovation in education (Global Innovation Index).
Apparently, Vietnamese education is surfacing in the international arena. And yet, behind the scenes there is always the shadow of the trophy: there is only a loose link between education outputs and social demands in Vietnam.
The Report on Vocational Education 2016 by the National Institution for Vocational Education and Training of Vietnam revealed a hard fact: the higher education levels, the higher the rates of unemployment.
Fig. 2: Number of unemployed people aged 15-60 by vocational training background. (National Institution for Vocational Education and Training, 2016)
The Voice of Vietnam e-newspaper remarked that tertiary programmes are not realistic, are heavily test-based, and result in low levels of transfer. Therefore, they are limited in career orientation. (VoV, 2018).
According to the World Bank, the quality of Vietnamese human resources ranks 11th out of 12 surveyed countries in Asia. Of 53.4 million labourers aged 15+, only 49% have had training. This is more evident at advanced levels where there is a bigger lack of skilled workers and technical workers (Tap chi Mat tran 2019).
The mismatch of education outputs and social demands can be attributed to several factors. Among them are heavily-academic programme contents, and misconception of the employment-guaranteeing value of university degrees.
High school and university curricula still rely heavily on theoretical lessons and knowledge input, without sufficient practical working knowledge or skills, placing knowledge before competence. In this model, knowledge is both the input of the education training process and the expected output.
Classes, whether at high schools or higher education institutions, are in most places conducted in the traditional way with the teacher as the preacher imparting knowledge to the students. Twenty-first century skills are thus mostly neglected. Decision-making is lacking. Problem-solving is not taught, experienced or trained for. People-skills are not practised. Little is known of global citizenship.
Most of what students are expected to do is absorb the knowledge from the teacher, recite what has been taught, and do exercises that have little real-life value. Higher education programmes are loosely connected to the actual demands of the society. According to Professor Le Huu Lap, this is due to the weak connection between colleges, universities and business entities. This has led to two parallel lines of movement, with higher education institutions on one track, and the business sector on the other. They both advance, but do not seem to meet each other.
The second factor is the over-emphasis on the value of a university degree. In the belief that this is the passport to a good job, perceived generally as one that brings a high
salary, coupled with the hope that their children will become leaders, not workers, parents push their children to the limit to gain access to higher education. This has resulted in an imbalance of demand and supply where a lack of technical workers and skilled workers prevails in the industry, and a surplus of university graduates look for jobs. As a result, many have to content themselves with a job totally unrelated to their degree major.
However, a paradigm shift is already taking place.
In November 2013, the Communist Party of Vietnam released the Resolution "On fundamental and comprehensive renovation of education and training" to meet the demands of developing high-quality human resources, building a knowledge economy in the process of industrialization and modernization, and the development of a socialist-oriented market economy and international integration.
To realise this ambition, Vietnam has reserved the quite high portion of over 20% of the national budget for education. In terms of GDP and education, the expenditure-to-GDP ratio topped ASEAN member countries in three successive years from 2017 to 2019, spending 5.7% of its GDP for education (Cornell University, INSEAD, and WIPO, 2017, 2018, 2019).
Since the release of the Resolution, efforts have been made at national, provincial and local levels to implement it. Radical schools in cities and major provincial places of the country have been experimenting with task-based lessons, theme-based workshops, and problem-solving activities, with promising results to date.
Starting in 2020, the country is going to implement the new primary and secondary education curriculum, which is intended to help develop students' ability to solve problems and achieve task objectives via theme-based activities that put knowledge into practice. Several universities have taken into consideration social demands in developing their programmes.
The country is undergoing an education renovation towards a more open system of education where transferability between formal and continuing education is made possible. In the wake of the surplus of academic graduates, it is promoting a paradigm shift from academic dominance to vocational prevalence, flipping the current 70/30 ratio of academic to professional-vocational student bodies for an expected 30/70 ratio.
To conclude, it is worth quoting Jean Piaget, "The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing NEW [emphasis added] things, not simply repeating what other generations have done". Similarly, William Arthur Ward said that "Teaching is more than imparting knowledge, it is inspiring change. Learning is more than absorbing facts, it is acquiring understanding." In light of these statements, Vietnam appears to be moving in the right direction.
Cornell University, INSEAD, and WIPO. (2017). The Global Innovation Index 2017: Innovation Feeding the World, Ithaca, Fontainebleau, and Geneva. https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/wipo_pub_gii_2017.pdf.
Cornell University, INSEAD, and WIPO. (2018). The Global Innovation Index 2018: Energizing the World with Innovation. Ithaca, Fontainebleau, and Geneva. https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/wipo_pub_gii_2018.pdf.
Cornell University, INSEAD, and WIPO. (2019). The Global Innovation Index 2019: Creating Healthy Lives—The Future of Medical Innovation, Ithaca, Fontainebleau, and Geneva. https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/wipo_pub_gii_2019.pdf.
EVBN. (2018). Education in Vietnam. Research report. http://www.ukabc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/EVBN-Report-Education-Final-Report.pdf
FactsMaps. (2015). PISA 2015 Worldwide Ranking – average score of math, science and reading. http://factsmaps.com/pisa-worldwide-ranking-average-score-of-math-science-reading/)
Global Innovation Index. Available at: https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/home.
Le Huu Lap. (2018). "Đào tạo nguồn nhân lực: Lạc điệu xa rời thực tiễn". https://saigondautu.com.vn/kinh-te/dao-tao-nguon-nhan-luc-lac-dieu-xa-roi-thuc-tien-53926.html.
National Institution for Vocational Education and Training. (2016). National Report on Vocational Education and Training. Youth Publishing House. Hanoi.
OECD. (2012). PISA 2012 Results in Focus. What 15-year-olds know and what they can do with what they know. Tap chi Mat tran. (2019). Thúc đẩy liên kết trường đại học và doanh nghiệp ở nước ta trước bối cảnh cách mạng công nghiệp lần thứ tư. http://tapchimattran.vn/thuc-tien/thuc-day-lien-ket-truong-dai-hoc-va-doanh-nghiep-o-nuoc-ta-truoc-boi-canh-cach-mang-cong-nghiep-lan-thu-tu-22218.html.
VoV. (2018). Đào tạo đại học còn xa thực tế. https://vov.vn/xa-hoi/giao-duc/dao-tao-dai-hoc-con-xa-thuc-te-nang-ne-thi-cu-814447.vov.
KHAU HUU PHUOC firstname.lastname@example.org
It is human psychology that the older one is and the more one has witnessed, the more cautious one is in a new situation and naturally the higher the fear one has.
The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has recently sparked such a nightmare in the minds of most people around Asia and beyond the continent. These days, people, save children, will wake up in the morning, turn on the TV, and swipe open the smart phone in search of news of the development of the epidemic. People go to work. What do they talk about at work, during tea break, lunch time? As is expected, COVID-19.
A child is born without much of the knowledge adults have, with no experience of mishaps that adults have gone through, and thus is unaware of what consequences may come in an event. Adults are not just “older and bigger” children. They have different mindsets. They each have a stock of cause-effect sequences, one leading to the next, which in turn results in another, as if there is a chain connecting all together to finally bring a disastrious ending.
It is natural that such an “informed” fear triggers a chain of reactions. Seeing scenes of locked-down zones in disease-stricken countries, where all movement is restricted, where people are advised or obliged to stay indoors, and where a trip to the supermarket is banned, people in other places and countries flock to supermarkets to hoard supplies of food, and necessities, not even sparing toilet paper in anticipation of the worst to come. Adults are quick to learn from their past experience that something horrendous is coming. They envision all sorts of life-threatening factors and come to the conclusion that the world may come to an end.
Such shopping sprees can be seen on the media, depicting Hongkong, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and even as far away from the original epicenter Wuhan as California in the US.
Such a scene was seen in Hanoi, Vietnam on the night of March 2 2020. But it was gone as quickly as it came. What happened then?
On the evening of March 7, the Government and media gave news of a Vietnamese returning from a trip to Italy, England and France. She showed signs of the sickness and was soon tested for the suspected disease. The result was positive.
As soon as people heard the news, they did what people in other countries had done: rush to the supermarket and begin collecting things for future use. A panicking experience was about to explode.
The next day, things returned to normal, except that streets were quieter, with fewer people moving around. Had there been any media announcement that the information was wrong? Had the Government declared that the patient had flu, not the dreaded sister of it? No. There were even more confirmed cases announced, but what made this magic shift in attitude of the people and their behaviour was they had learned and understood that the disease was not as terrible as they had thought, as long as they knew how to protect themselves. The Government had done a wonderful job of adult education.
TV programmes showed the deputy Prime Minister chairing a meeting, during which he expressed the nation’s resolution to fight the potential epidemic, quoting the Prime Minister saying “We must fight the disease as we have fought an enemy”. He ordered the Ministry of Health to set up a webpage, giving information on how the disease may be transmitted, how people can prevent infection, how the country government at all levels has prepared for this scenario. Most of all, he made it clear that the Government and the media would be transparent in all matters so that people would know the real situation. He advised that panic would not solve the problem and that people should react knowledgeably. The following days the media informed people that there would be no food and other daily supply shortage because food suppliers and providers of daily consumption things had previously made big stocks in preparaton; instant messages from the Ministry of Health occasionally popped up on smart phones giving updates of the disease.
Isn’t this adult education? If it is, is it effective adult education?
The term “education” is commonly taken to mean imparting knowledge in a formal environment, conducted by a solemn-looking person who is usually referred to with reverence as teacher or master. It came from the long past when children’s learning by playing with and mimicking adults was no longer sufficient to result in outcomes that children would grow up becoming as good at a trade, and knowledgeable in a field as their older people. Adults had to resort to storing knowledge in the form of books and other teaching materials, and educate children in the structured ways that knowledge would be, in educators’ thinking, be best absorbed by learners.
UNESCO has emphasized that though education is an essential requirement for human society to advance, how it is done is of equal importance; and that learning should take place throughout one’s life. According to UNESCO, Lifelong learning is “rooted in the integration of learning and living, covering learning activities for people of all ages (children, young people, adults and the elderly, girls and boys, women and men) in all life-wide contexts (family, school, community, workplace and so on) and through a variety of modalities (formal, non-formal and informal) which together meet a wide range of learning needs and demands. Education systems which promote lifelong learning adopt a holistic and sector-wide approach involving all sub-sectors and levels to ensure the provision of learning opportunities for all individuals."
In light of this definition, a common belief is that education can be done and should also be done outside the formal schooling context. Then it falls into the domain of community learning centres (CLCs). There were over 11.000 CLCs in 2018, one in almost every village and ward (the smallest administration area in cities) across Vietnam. They have played a big role in promoting adult education.
They disseminate practical knowledge of health, farming, technology, and skills of a various trades. They spread government directions and policies. They draw attention to environmental deterioration and raise awareness of environmental preservation. And yet, they are each a distance away from home. To learn, one must get out of the house.
The media, including TV, internet, and radio, are just a click away of the computer mouse, or a slight touch of the phone screen.
Vietnam has utilized the media to its best effect. And media do not just include those. Banners and posters along streets can be succinct lessons for road users. A minute’s stop at a set of traffic lights is enough to learn that washing hands with soap is an effective way to eliminate most bacteria. Eyes roaming along the street while sitting on a bus can take in other lessons that the corona virus does not kill in most cases, that symptoms can be just like a mild cold.Leaflets distributed to households will serve the same educational purpose. There is even an exciting music video clip on YouTube by a Vietnamese music group showing how to stay away from the disease; the clip is now known around the world and is remade by people in different countries.
There is a common saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. When people know more about the disease, about the real situation in the country, and about the method to prevent it, people calm down, and act more sensibly.
The epidemic is still going on, ravaging many parts of the world. The Vietnamese are calmly tackling the problem, fighting the disease with the best knowledge they learn from different sources, among which are the media – a good tool of adult education.
 Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. Electronic version provided by Pennsylvania State University.
 UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (n.d.). “Technical Note: Lifelong Learning”. Available at: http://uil.unesco.org/fileadmin/keydocuments/LifelongLearning/en/UNESCOTechNotesLLL.pdf.
 Ministry of Education. (2018). “Current Development of CLCs and Future Direction.” Capacity Building for CLC Management. Internal circulation.
 MOET. (2007). Decision 01/2007/QĐ-BGDĐT. Promulgation of Regulations on Establishment and Operation of Community Learning Centres.
 One such clip can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0MxcBvCoZk. The song advises washing hands, not putting hands to faces, limiting going to crowded places, and keeping environments clean.