Vietnam—Education System

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Author: Ursula Nguyen
Editors: Karen Christensen and David Levinson
Date: 2002
Encyclopedia of Modern Asia
From: Encyclopedia of Modern Asia(Vol. 6. )
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 2
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Since Vietnam was occupied by China between 111 BCE and 939 CE, the Vietnamese education system was initially developed resembling the Chinese hierarchic Confucian examination system. This system mainly served for the recruitment of loyal civil servants, who were trained according to Confucian morals and ethics. The main educational content of the system was taken from the Chinese Five Classics (Yi jing, or Classic of Changes; Shu jing, or Classic of History; Li ji, or Book of Rites; Shi jing, or Classic of Poetry; and Chunqiu, or Spring and Autumn Annals), and the Confucian Four Books (Da xue, or Great Teaching; Zhong yong, or Doctrine of the Mean; the Analects, and Mengzi, or Mencius.) However, Mahayana Buddhism also had some important influence on the system.

Because the Vietnamese language originally lacked its own script, the civil-service examination system used Chinese characters as a teaching and learning medium. During the thirteenth century, Vietnamese scholars developed the first national script system (nom), which, while based on Chinese characters, was built around the Vietnamese pronunciation of words. However, this script did not spread among the common population, because it demanded extensive knowledge of written Chinese. In the sixteenth century, Christian Portuguese and French missionaries arrived in Vietnam and later developed the currently used quoc ngu script, which uses Latin alphabet with diacritical signs. During colonial occupation, the French proclaimed Vietnamese, written in quoc ngu, and French the two official languages.

Education in the Colonial Period

After several changes, the colonial education system eventually comprised three years of elementary school (certificat d'études élémentaire indigène), three years of primary school (certificat d'études primaires franco-indigène), four years of complementary primary school (diplôme d'études primaires supérieurs franco indigène), and three years of secondary school (baccalauréat local). Serving the extensive needs of the colonial government for low-paid civil servants, the colonial education system focused on practical training and on the acquisition of the French language. In addition, although the final official Confucian examinations were held in 1918, during most of the colonial period traditional Confucian instruction continued to exist, as did Buddhist education, provided for future monks.

Education in the Two Vietnams

During the separation of the country between 1954 and 1975, two different education systems developed. In the North, President Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) launched large literacy campaigns that were highly successful. Educational reforms were aimed at establishing a socialist education system, modeled on the Soviet model. The school system was composed of nine (later ten) years of schooling in total (4-3-2, later 4-3-3). Various vocational secondary schools and training centers developed that provided personnel for lower-level careers in the state sector. Higher education was provided by highly specialized, small-enrollment universities, polytechnical universities, and colleges. Postgraduate education was mainly conducted in the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Education was organized by five- and one-year state plans and served the national demand for qualified labor. After graduation, students were directly transferred to diverse positions in the state sector.

In the South, a twelve-year system was promoted by the government. Vocational secondary schools, vocational training centers, and on-the-job trainingPage 66  |  Top of Article opportunities were established to serve the labor market. Universities such as the universities of Saigon and Can Tho, as well as colleges, developed on the American model.

Education after Reunification

Vietnam was reunified in 1975, and the third education reform was initiated in 1979. Efforts were undertaken to unify the two different school systems and to establish a national education system according to the principles of free education for all, polytechnical education following the socialist model, and priority for socialist ideology and practical work in all teaching curricula. This brought about the closing of approximately 2,500 private educational establishments in the South. Higher-education students were selected according to their personal curriculum vitae and social origin, and student exchange programs were almost exclusively organized with countries from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Foreign-language teaching focused on Russian and German.

Since the official promulgation of the doi moi ("renovation") reform policy program in 1986 the national education system has adapted to new circumstances. Today it is composed of the following components: public kindergarten establishments, which serve children from three months to four years, public preschools for children of at least five years of age, public primary schools for children between six and ten (five years' duration), public lower secondary schools for children between eleven and fourteen (four years' duration), vocational training centers at lower secondary level (under one year's duration), upper secondary schools for students between fifteen and seventeen, secondary vocational schools at the upper secondary level (three to four years' duration), secondary technical schools at upper secondary level (three to four years' duration), and vocational training centers at upper secondary level (one to two years' duration). In addition, different opportunities for on-thejob training courses are offered by the labor market. Higher education is composed of universities (three to six years' duration) and colleges (two to four years' duration). Written and oral examinations are held to transfer pupils from one level to the next, and final examinations after grade 12 are followed by entrance examinations to universities and colleges. Postgraduate education consists of master and doctoral programs.

When the Sixth Party Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party liberalized the economy and proclaimed more market-oriented reform measures, one of the immediate consequences was a decline in education at all levels. Income-raising opportunities forced people to decide between children's contribution to the family income or education. In addition, there were educational reform measures, which reflected the overall transition to a multisector economy. The reform measures can be grouped into five categories: the diversification of financial resources, efforts to internationalize the education system through reform of the structural organization of higher education, the withdrawal of the state-promoted plans for the decentralization of decision making in Vietnamese education, an overall increase in legal documents accompanying the transformation and culminating in the promulgation of the first national education law in 1999, and methods of encouraging the development of educational elites, which resulted in the reestablishment of schools and classes for especially gifted students.

These transformation processes were paralleled by trends among the general public. The trends include making extensive efforts and investment to gain additional instruction and preparation for their offspring to improve their chances for a future career (including sacrifices to allow their children to study overseas in other Southeast Asian nations, Australia, the United States, and Europe); educational stratification resulting from the overall differentiation of income structures, especially between urban and rural areas; reorientation of students in their choices of disciplines (preferences for English, Chinese, communication technology, computer sciences, law, economics, public administration, and so forth); a change in values and increased popularity of diplomas and certificates; and brain drain from higher education toward higherpaying jobs in the developing market economy.

Ursula Nguyen

Further Reading

Berlie, Jean. (1995) "Higher Education in Vietnam: Historical Background, Policy, and Prospect." In East Asian Higher Education: Traditions and Transformations. Issues in Higher Education Series, edited by Albert H. Yee. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 155–165.

Kelly, Gail P. (1978) "Colonial Schools in Vietnam: Policy and Practice." In Education and Colonialism, edited by Philip G. Altbach and Gail P. Kelly. New York: Longman, 96–121.

Nguyen The Long. (1995) Nho hoc o Viet Nam: Giao duc va thi cu (Confucianism in Vietnam: Education and Examination). Hanoi, Vietnam: NXB Giao Duc.

Pham Minh Hac, ed. (1994) Education in Vietnam 19451991. Hanoi, Vietnam: NXB Giao Duc.

Sloper, David, and Le Thac Can, eds. (1995) Higher Education in Vietnam: Change and Response. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3403703147