30 years of renovation: A look from the national education policy
VietNamNet Bridge - Under the light of the party, we have performed renovation policy for 30 years since 1986. Thanks to the great success from that policy, the country has made historical changes, gradually overcoming hunger and poverty.

Các sếp giáo dục cũng 'lên bờ xuống ruộng'

Mr. Pham Hiep

Now it is the golden opportunity to seriously review the achievements that we have achieved together, as well as wisely point out what we need to do next, and how to go into the future...

VietNamNet would like to introduce the talks “30 years of renovation: A look from the national education policy.”

Shortly after the renovation decision was made, all resolutions issued by the National Party Congress and the Conferences of the Central Party Committee of the 3rd, 7th and 9th terms specified education reform as an urgent demand of society ... But the fact in the past 30 years shows that if we do not urgently change behavior and not urgently conduct entire reform in the education system, we will be unable to get out of the deadlock ....

Our guests - former Vice Chairman of the National Assembly Committee on Culture, Education, Youth, Teenagers and Children Nguyen Minh Thuyet, journalist Kim Dung and researcher, member of the educational dialogue group Pham Hiep – will discuss this issue with VietNamNet.
VietNamNet: What do you see when you look back at Vietnam’s education in the past 30 years of renovation?

Nguyen Minh Thuyet: We are very familiar with these words: “Education is a top national policy" and "Education is still very weak."

In fact, in the country’s tradition, our fathers already considered education as a top national policy. A lot of poor families still tried their best to send their children to school.

In 1991, the Platform of the Party officially confirmed: along with science and technology, education is a top national policy, which is the most important policy of the country. Since then, the budget for education is growing and in many years it accounted for up to 20% of the national budget.

However, what we have done with education has not yet deserved to a top national policy. I'm not talking about financial investment or infrastructure but the thinking, the attention and instruction of leaders from the central to grassroots for education.

Let’s ask any official that how they are interested in education, do Party cells meet periodically to guide the implementation of this top national policy? I am sure that many people will say "no". Each several years, the Party issues a resolution on education and then leave the education sector to handle it alone. So, how can we call it the top national policy?

However, inheriting favorable conditions and achievement from the renovation policy, the education sector has also made significant move.

Firstly, the people trained by Vietnamese school have played a key role in the implementation of the innovation guidelines; contributed to turn Vietnam from a poor, backward country into a middle income nation.

Secondly, the scale of education has flourished, with diverse types of education and training to meet the needs of the people. Besides public schools we now have private schools. The state also creates favorable conditions for people to study abroad.

Journalist Kim Dung: Compared to the picture of the education sector 30 years ago, the education sector today has changed a lot.

First of all, the scale is much larger. Education universialization from primary to secondary education has been implemented continuously and has achieved certain accomplishments, whether the results in certain places remain unstable. Unfortunately, our national income is too low, the number of pupils and students is high so although the education sector sometimes receives up to 20% of the budget, per pupil spending is still low.

Regarding the quality of education we must see it from the aspect of education conditions.

Respecting teachers and education has long been our tradition. We have never talked about education as much as today. 

Education has become the daily concern of the people. It is good but it also reveals the people’s concerns about the story of education in Vietnam at present, especially quality of education.

Concerning education, in the past 30 years the most popular topic in education reform is the textbook. And until now textbook reform is still an issue of public concern.

The biggest, the most important issue of the quality of education is to control the process of education. So in the past 30 years, could the education sector in general and schools in particular control their education process? This is a big question that must be answered in reviewing Vietnam’s education after 30 years of renovation.

Pham Hiep: If we want to evaluate the education, we should separate general education from higher education.

If we look at our general education, we have gone backward a little compared to other countries in the world, but if we look at higher education, it is clear we are lagging far behind the world.

The problem is that we have yet to exploit, taken advantage of the potential of our resources. The cause of this confusion is that when we shift from elite education to general education, our management thinking, organization fail to catch up with the changes.

Let’s imagine this: 30 years ago, our higher education served more than 100,000 people, but now the number is up to 2.2 million people.

VietNamNet: If you look at the percentage of gifted students, the percentage of people with high degrees, and the complaints about education product in the media, what do you think?

Nguyen Minh Thuyet: We must review how we shift from the elite education to mass education, especially for the higher education.

To be fair, the gifted and excellent students today are much better than we were in the past. But for mass education, the quality today is poorer than the past. It is because previously we pursued the trend of elite education. In the past each district had only 5-7 people entering the college, and now all villages have a lot of people going to the college. It is good to have many more well-educated people but it is a big worry that the degree is not associated with the quality of training.

I agree with Hiep that if we assess Vietnam’s education, we should split general education and higher education.

Our general education is not bad. The biggest drawback is the heavy curriculum, the lack of practices and the existence of negative phenomena like extra classes, focusing on achievements, etc.

The most worrisome is higher education. But all the reforms in education since 1950 only aimed at general education. We still have no reform in the higher education sector, while this education level is decisive for the quality of human resources to develop the country.

Unlike many other countries, in Vietnam, while students at general schools study very hard, college students have more leisure time.

Another concern is that Vietnamese universities are in danger of making "inbreeding marriage". They usually hold excellent students for postgraduate and then recruit them as new lecturers. That makes young teachers to be the shadow of their teachers.

In many countries with developed education, they do not allow students to stay for working right at their school after graduation. They have to further study at other schools, in new environment to have access to various sources of knowledge and experience. The swap not only helps the university teachers get more abundant knowledge but also more independent thinking. 
Journalist Kim Dung: The nature of education in our country today is still "learning for exams" rather than "learning to work".

As people study for exams, so the education keeps pursuing achievement and scores. Look at the exams and you will see that this thinking affects all officials in the education sector. And the Ministry of Education, called the Ministry of Examination, in the sense that after the new school year starts, it begin to focus on organizing examinations. From the beginning of the year till the end of the year, the ministry only works around exams.

Besides I have to say that the results of examinations of local education and training departments are under pressure from local authorities. As a result, education departments always have to try to have high achievement in exams.

On the other hand, when it comes to quality of education, we have to consider the control of education process, the conditions that create the quality of education. Reviewing our education in the past decades, the most difficult thing is to control the educational process. And the conditions for ensuring the quality of education is asynchronous.

Nguyen Minh Thuyet: The so-called “benh thanh tich” (the phenomenon under which all schools try to have high rate of excellent students, even though the quality of education is not good) is not only the problem of the education sector but the whole society. Let’s look into society you will see how many outstanding workers, how many winners of emulation campaigns we have but why our country is still poor, still backward?

Pham Hiep: In any country, if you go to school to study, then you have degrees and marks. It’s normal. But it is abnormal in the way we behave to degree and scores.

I have a friend who got a doctoral degree in the US. Returning to Vietnam, he was invited to assess and mark bachelor thesis. After reading a thesis very carefully, he said that it was worth for 7 points, but the chairman of the assessment board told him to raise the score so that “after graduation, that student can easily apply for a job”. This has led to “score inflation” at universities.

Nguyen Minh Thuyet: In our country, fond of degrees has been a “tradition” because only when you had a high degree, you could become a mandarin.

With reference to the history, we will find out that until now we still use the human resources in the same way with the past: only use degree to become mandarin (now official) and only being a mandarin you will have a good life. To change this situation, we have to change personnel policies.

Journalist Kim Dung: We need to see one thing: people are very good at finding loopholes to deal with education policy. Many people “buy” high scores for their children from grade 1 to grade 12 in order to make up their student profile. 

Even the teachers themselves, form the principal, have an interest in this. In Vietnam an education for the benefit of adults rather than for children has been existing for a very long time.

VietNamNet: I think that in Vietnam education has an important political mission.

Nguyen Minh Thuyet: Each agency has its own functions and responsibilities and we often call it political tasks. It’s similar for the education sector, and as a top national policy, it has a special political mission.

But I do not like that name. In my opinion, the mission of education is to teach people complete their personality, capacity development of each individual, thus forming a workforce to build and defend the country, rather than just focusing training under plans, willed subjective of any organization, certain individuals.

Pham Hiep: I think the first task of education is to train people with specific skills, knowledge, and quality.

We have to set standards for education, for example, the knowledge, the qualifications, the skills that students must have after graduation.

The countries with developed education rarely use strong words or slogans but calmly set regulations and standards. Our way of doing in education is different from the world. Other countries go into the details, while we spend too much time to discuss things very general.

Journalist Kim Dung: Education has a very important function. Education is a mission – the mission of training human resources for society. And so education must be itself or must be… education.

VietNamNet: In other countries they often build a clear educational strategy, in line with the national development requirements?

Journalist Kim Dung: The education strategy in any country is to create the human resources that meet the need of the labor market, meet the requirements of economic and social development, and cultural and social objectives that the countries pursue. Investment in education is profitable, that’s it.

VietNamNet: The most obvious goal set by the Communist Party of Vietnam is developing the country toward a prosperous people, a strong country, social justice, democracy and civilization, then what has the education contributed to this goal in the past 30 years?

Nguyen Minh Thuyet: Once we still need slogans then we have not yet reached the things we state in the slogans. But not only the education sector but many other sectors have not contributed to the cause of national construction as expectation.

I do not want to advocate for the education sector, but any sector and any location has its own weakness so we have to look at the general policy to find the shortcomings.

The renovation policy that was initiated in 1986 has created a driving force for the great shift. Looking back at previous years of education innovation, the education worked under the State’s assignment and quotas. After graduations, students were allocated to different agencies and these agencies had to accept them even though they did not need them. All were planned.

Thanks to innovation, the public university system has the training system B under which students are trained under the needs of the market, then private schools are established to meet the learning needs of the people, demand for international integration.

But we can only meet the learning needs, the demand for human resources and quantity, not quality.

Journalist Kim Dung: Since the '50s, we have had 4 educational reforms. In the past 30 years we have had 2 educational reforms.

It was the education reform in 1981, shortly after the country’s reunification. This reform achieved some goals: merging the national education system with 12 years of education and unifying the curriculum.

In 2000, the education sector carried out renovation again. The biggest goal of this reform was the innovation of teaching methods of teachers associated with the use of teaching tools. However, the final goal of this reform was finally not achieved because of subjective and objective reasons. 

However, it is fair to say that education in the past 30 years has also met the needs in a certain number of respects. Because after all, the fruits of the renovation when we shifted from a centrally planned to a market economy today has the contribution from the school's products, from Vietnam's education sector.

Most of the education reforms in our countries focused on changing textbooks. We have invested a lot of money in reforming textbooks but the quality of textbooks is still a problem. That’s my biggest concern. 

Nguyen Minh Thuyet: Why Vietnamese people going abroad do not throw rubbish to the street and are not easy to get angry? Why the products of the same education model but they have different behaviors in different environments? Why?

My answer is the social environment, the national policies rather than the story of every person.

To be continued…


30 years of renovation: A look from the national education policy