Top Vietnamese Party Officials Push Innovation In Schools

Feb 20 2014, 9:19am CST | by

Top Vietnamese Party Officials Push Innovation In Schools
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

HANOI – Even as the people in Vietnamese schools with whom I have met complain about the restrictions on their ability to innovate and create more student-centered education, top education officials in the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) are seeking to spark more innovation in Vietnam’s schools to create a more personalized learning system for Vietnamese students.

In my meeting with several party officials Tuesday, I was impressed with their focus on promoting innovation in the education system.

According to Dr. Vu Ngoc Hoang, the Standing Vice Chairman of the Central Commission for Popularization and Education of the CPV, which sets the overall direction for education policies in the country, there are two core issues on which they are focusing currently.

First, traditionally the Vietnamese system has focused on the dissemination of knowledge from the teacher in the form of lectures, but now they want to see the teacher focus much more on how students are learning. Teachers must adjust the activities in class, he said.

Second, the country is changing its education system from a closed one to one that is more open and free.

Dr. Hoang said that the high-level policy is in place, but now the questions are around how to implement effectively.

The Ministry of Education and Training is working on three things primarily: (1) changing the way that the tests are conducted; (2) reinventing the curriculum; (3) developing the non-public education system in higher education in particular.

For the tests, some immediate changes being considered are that currently the high school finishing exam is delivered only once at the end of the school year. They would like to offer it at least two times a year, including once in the middle of the year, so that students who failed the first time would have a second chance. This year’s exam in June will also cover fewer of the curriculum’s required subjects. The country is also making a big change to the university entrance exam system. Currently there is one central test that controls entrance to all of the universities, but the country will now allow universities to adopt their own admission criteria and exams based on their priorities, which they hope will promote innovation.

To reinvent the curriculum, the Ministry is currently rewriting the national textbooks for 2015, but it seems as though it will maintain one national curriculum and textbook for the entire country, rather than adopting standards and allowing local schools extensive ability to customize the curriculum depending on individual student needs. If so, this will remain a barrier to innovation. The Ministry is also paying increased attention to foreign languages in the curriculum and would like to see English become the second most popular language in the country behind Vietnamese.

With regards to developing the non-public education system, the conversation could not be more different—in a positive way—from that occurring in the United States. Currently Dr. Hoang said that the private sector accounts for roughly 15 percent of higher education enrollments, whereas the goal is to increase the private sector’s market share to 80 percent. The reason is that with limited public resources, the government knows that to expand capacity and offer more students a higher education, it needs to leverage private investment and private tuition. As I have written, attracting private capital to education is something for which the for-profit sector is positioned uniquely. Vietnam wants to take advantage of this. Dr. Hoang talked extensively about how the country wants to open the education market for foreign investment, especially to create new vocational training and higher education programs. In the future he could see that private schools will train the majority of people in the country, and the public schools will focus on the truly marginalized students where private options would be less able to help. This also accords with some of my past observations on the values that for-profit entities bring versus non-profit and public options.

Coupled with that change in higher education and the change in the university entrance exam, the country is working on giving colleges and universities more autonomy. Previously, the Ministry determined the affairs of each school; for example, it had to grant approval for each course’s curriculum in all universities.

The biggest challenge Dr. Hoang said was how to retrain teachers to be less teacher-centered and more student-centered. He sees the barriers to this as coming from teachers and administrators. Teachers are not used to watching the absorption of learning by students, and it is much harder work, he said. It will also require more work by administrators because it is more enabling for students, he said. I’m not sure if this is true because in my visits to several private schools I have seen lots of eagerness to change, but I have not yet visited any public schools where I understand this problem is far more challenging for several reasons.

To address the challenges, the officials said that they are trying three things: (1) retraining; (2) creating pressure on the administrators from the state and from companies, parents, and society more generally; and (3) elevating good examples for people to see.

Professional development to support teachers in any transition is certainly critical, but my observation is that to execute upon the party’s wishes for more innovation, the Ministry will also have to put in a lot of work to strip out all of the time-bound regulations that restrict true student-centered learning, as well as those policies and regulations that promote standardization as opposed to customization.

In addition, what I have heard in other meetings is that the availability of high-quality teachers in subjects such as English are in short supply throughout the country, particularly in rural areas. When I spoke with a standing member of the committee for Culture, Education, Youth and Children for the National Assembly, Dr. Pham Tat Thang, I told him about how rural schools in the United States use online learning to connect to highly qualified teachers in subjects where they have none. He said that the Internet connection would be too costly to afford for both school and home though in the rural areas, and textbooks are still a more affordable option. This is probably true on a strict basis, but I wonder if it would be true if the costs and savings were looked at more comprehensively. Given that the total public budget for all forms of education (K–12, higher education, vocational training, military training, and so forth) is roughly $5 billion in Vietnam, limited resources is a real barrier though. This reality increases the need for private investment to deal with the country’s capacity constraints.

In sum, these policy and regulatory barriers are real ones in the movement to fulfill the party members’ wishes to spawn innovation and create a more student-centered education system in Vietnam.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

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