Journalist Kim Dung and Mr. Nguyen Minh Thuyet
VietNamNet: Mr. Nguyen Minh Thuyet, do you think that the true education is still a matter of controversy?
Nguyen Minh Thuyet: The conception “true education” is a long-term story that we have to debate.
I think it is simpler to discuss the following question: whether education has met the expectations of the people, the requirements of development of the country or not?
In my opinion, in a not very long time, the education sector can meet these requirements, but it needs a specific strategy.
Currently, the education sector has many new things but these changes are chasing public opinion. If people complain about this, then it is fixed so renovation is not very effective. We need a specific development strategy for education, not only reflected in documents but in the measures implemented in practice.
We can choose a model of education with the similar starting point like Vietnam, for example Japan and South Korea to follow.
South Korea previously imported the entire programs, textbooks from Japan to use. In the current conditions of Vietnam, in my opinion, for the foreign language and natural sciences, we should use foreign curriculum and don’t need to compile our own textbooks and then change them very often.
But to have a mindset like that, the commander should be very assertive. But it is not easy to be assertiveness, because officials are affected by many factors, many other requirements.
To have a right strategy, with long-term vision, and to successfully implement that strategy, the Ministry of Education and Training must be hands-free.
The Ministry has not escaped from the thinking of the centralized, bureaucracy period. They still take care of everything, from the smallest thing. If they keep doing that way, they will have no time to take care of the big ones or the strategy.
In terms of content, to map out the right strategy with a long vision, the education sector has to address the following four relationships:
The first is the relationship between quantity and quality. We have to satisfy the needs for learning of the people, on the other hand, we have to ensure training quality.
The second is the relationship between the schools and society, with the labor market. Both the content and method of education in Vietnam are far from the social requirement and.
The third is the relationship between the positive and the negative sides of the market economy. Currently, we always blame the market economy for everything, because we did not take advantage of the positive side of it – it is the competitiveness while we do not strictly control the negative side.
The four is the relationship between centralized management to decentralized management. The Ministry of Education and Training is doing its job in the centralized management style. It manages everything while the most significant thing that needs management is finance is not managed well. Every year, the State grants up to 20% of the budget for the education sector but how the funding is spent? The Ministry of Education and Training does not make decision on this.
In 2008, according to the additional report of the Government to the National Assembly presented by the Minister of Planning and Investment Vo Hong Phuc, there were 27 localities in the country, including large cities, failed to comply with criteria that the Government allocated to education and science. Some big cities only spent half of one third of the funding granted for education.
Journalist Kim Dung: The Ministry of Education should give more autonomy to universities.
The fact that Mr. Thuyet just mentioned is actually the issue of interest. Giving autonomy is losing power. So giving autonomy to universities and abolishing the ask-give mechanism requires the strong reform of management in the education sector.
About spending for education, though the education sector receives up to 20% of the state budget, the sector does not allow to hold the money, but the local authorities.
Nguyen Minh Thuyet: When I worked at the university, I was afraid the most the school opening occasion because it was very difficult to invite high-ranking leaders to attend the ceremony. Meanwhile in many countries, officials always want to appear at universities to speak and announce new policies, new perspectives.
I think, if they really care about education, our leaders should take the concrete action.
Pham Hiep: The story of autonomy in education that we have discussed so far includes autonomy and self-responsibility.
The education management agencies have no longer managed the grant of certificates and degrees but they still intervene in many small tasks.
If the Ministry of Education and Training keeps intervening too deeply in specific tasks at schools, it will have no time to deal with big things, to perform reform and to seek a way out. The thing that it should do for a long time like assessing and ranking universities has not been done yet.
One of the educational dialogue group's proposals is that we need to make a set of indicators of school quality and publish it annually. Since 2009 we have had the "three public" program, which seems to go on the right way, but unfortunately that program only goes to the middle of the way as universities can self declare their quality of training, without the assessment of a state agency or an independent agency.
In the coming time, to reinforce the quality of education and training, if this set of indicators is applied and made public, be made public annually, the State management agencies, the National Assembly, and the people will have information from all schools.
When this set of indicators becomes popular, it can be used as the foundation for budget allocation or for appointment or re-appointment of senior personnel at schools.
In principle, this set of indicators is not different from the competitiveness index of the provinces that we're doing.
VietNamNet: The media has reported that many foreign contractors had to bring everything into Vietnam, even bolts and screws because Vietnamese workers could not even make these simple products. And this situation was blamed to the education sector for failing to train good workers. What do you think about this?
Journalist Kim Dung: That has touched the weakest point of education, especially vocational training.
The manpower of each country is associated with the school and education. I have said that our education sector still emphasizes in theory so that why our country is in the situation of lacking workers and having too many “intellectuals”. And the quality of training at vocational schools is poor so that after graduation, students from vocational schools cannot meet requirements of employers. That is a fact.
Mr. Nguyen Minh Thuyet
Nguyen Minh Thuyet: As Ms. Dung said, we do not resolve well the relationship between the school and society; Training is not attached to the labor market. For that reason, the knowledge and skills of students do not meet the requirements.
But the decisive factor here is policy. For dozens of years, we have set a target: by 2020, Vietnam will basically become an industrialized country. Everyone say it. But, until now, when the deadline of 2020 is not very far, we are still seeking the answers.
This is a matter of policy, when we set out a strategy and then we have to have solutions to realize it. For example, manufacturing screws is not very difficult but why we cannot do it? Or, as Minister Vu Huy Hoang said: we could produce screws, but cost is very expensive. Why?
It’s time to not be assured with virtual achievements anymore. Assessment the development through GDP is an example. But whenever we have new foreign investors, the GDP increases.
But we do understand that most of the interest of foreign-invested forms is transferred to the countries of the investors so we should stop to be happy saying that our per capita income increases.
The technology is theirs, as well as the material, we only lease them land and cheap labor. So we lose more than gain. If we keep being happy with that, we will never develop.
VietNamNet: How is the policy on granting autonomy to schools implemented?
Nguyen Minh Thuyet: The Ministry of Education and Training is calling for universities to register for applying the autonomy mechanism. But so far only about 10 universities have registered to do it. The reason is probably something like this:
Firstly, not many want to apply the autonomy mechanism because having autonomy is having to make decision and take responsibility for the decision.
Everyone likes self-determination because they can set higher tuition, select personnel, select the curriculum, etc. but they don’t want to take responsibility.
Secondly, it is the impacts of the term. Leaders of universities work under five-year term only. It is safe for them to rely on the state. If there are difficulties, they can complain to the Ministry and wait for solutions. If they ask for the autonomy mechanism, in case their schools face difficulties and they cannot solve them, they will have to personally take responsibility.
VietNamNet: So, what should we do to let them see that society will benefit more from this autonomy?
Nguyen Minh Thuyet: In terms of awareness, in my view, the state management agencies need to realize the benefits of giving autonomy for universities. If the Government and the Ministry of Education see that giving autonomy is beneficial and it is a must, they will force schools to apply the autonomy mechanism.
It is time to ask the question whether we keep ensure the operation of public schools by dividing the budget based on the average mechanism?
For example, previously scholarships for students from disadvantaged families were granted via schools, but now the scholarship is granted directly to each individual.
Similarly, scholarships for outstanding students who get high scores at university entrance exams should be granted directly to them in the form of bills and they can choose the schools they like to join and pay the tuition fees.
In the near future, tuition fees should be collected in accordance with the principle of tuition fees are sufficient for full compensation at school and thus, scholarship should be higher, so that scholarship is enough to cover tuition fees and accommodation rent in the dormitory. Thus, the better schools will get more gifted students, and these schools have more funds.
VietNamNet: Let’s return to the story of the output of educational products. What should we do to control the process?
Nguyen Minh Thuyet: First of all, we have to implement education quality assessment seriously and objectively.
Currently, we do not have any organization offering this service. The Ministry of Education and Department has the Testing and Accreditation Department but this is the state management agency, rather than a service organization. Some educational institutions have the accreditation centers but these centers only do internal testing.
Therefore, we can invite some foreign prestigious accreditation organizations to Vietnam to assess the quality of higher education. Through the process of working with these foreign accreditation organizations, gradually we can acquire some experience to build our own content, process, expertise and develop our own accreditation organizations.
The second is that schools must make public their spending, their material conditions, the quality of their lecturers, the content and process of education – training, the standards for output products in order to facilitate society and those with related interests to control processes and the quality of education.
Journalist Kim Dung: I agree with Mr. Thuyet that sooner or later we have an independent educational testing organization, otherwise it is necessary to invite foreign ones.
Previously, the Ministry of Education discussed the issue. The Ministry’s current inspection task is not quality assessment under the standards that we're talking about.
They tested some schools but they did not published the result, perhaps because of some sensitive issues.
To control the process of education, there are many conditions, but in my opinion, one of the conditions that is very important, but the education sector seems to not really pay attention to. That is the number of students in a class. At primary schools, the average number of students in a class is from 40 to 60 while the best is 25. With so many students toughed by one teacher, the quality of education at the class of 60 pupils will be certainly less than the class with only 25 pupils.
I am particularly interested in the number of students in a class at the primary schools, the grade requires thorough care for pupils.
Nguyen Minh Thuyet: A class with 15-20 pupils, the teacher can make very detailed comment on each pupil but with 60 pupils, it is impossible for the teacher.
Pham Hiep: I think the general education need to be under stricter control and deeper intervention from the state.
For higher education, the market mechanisms should be applied to let’s universities decide their own quality control process. If the Ministry of Education and Training does the quality assessment well, universities will select the Ministry, otherwise they can hire foreign accreditation organizations.
In fact, many universities have hired foreign accreditation organizations, such as the Ton Duc Thang and FPT.