Fast changes are happening to Vietnam’s “tiger cub” economy. As the country transforms itself into one of the most dynamic in the world, the government is aiming to drive innovation with major revisions to its national curriculum. But will outdated teaching methodologies check the country’s chances of reaching its full potential?
Leading Innovation, Not Following
“Things in this part of the world move very fast,” Ms. Nguyen Phuong Lan warns, “We are not talking about Vietnam as simply a follower of technology anymore, but as a leader.” Lan is the Chairwoman for EMG. Established in 2005 in Hanoi and expanding to Vietnam’s southern business hub of Ho Chi Minh City in 2010, the company have become a leading education provider in the dynamic Southeast Asian country. One of Vietnam’s first private education companies, EMG agreed to a wide-ranging partnership with Pearson last year that includes implementing the education company’s English proficiency assessments, international examinations and vocational qualifications.
“The Vietnamese people are quick to notice trends. You can see that in our engagement with technologies like blockchain,” Mr. Vu Hai Long, Director of FPT’s Greenwich Collaboration College, part of the FPT Corporation, concurs. The two education specialists were in Da Nang, in February, at Pearson’s invitation to talk about how education can support Vietnam’s economic growth at the company’s “The Future Of Learning” conference.
Mr. Vu Hai Long has seen the project to upskill Vietnam’s millennial generation bear fruit first-hand. “Fifteen years ago, FPT Software faced genuine difficulty finding the right people—there was a real skills shortage. We decided to invest in education primarily to help support our own business, but our focus on learning has meant young Vietnamese have been able to achieve success here while also entering the international job market,” Mr. Vu Hai Long adds.
FPT is the largest IT company in Vietnam with over 10,000 software engineers and the corporation also run FPT University that currently has campuses in Hanoi, Danang, and Ho Chi Minh City. Added to that FPT Greenwich Collaboration College offers courses under the supervision of the University of Greenwich which gives their students the opportunity to receive a world-class undergraduate education at an affordable cost.
Forward-thinking Curriculum Changes
However, despite FPT’s successes, question marks have arisen over the effectiveness of Vietnam’s higher education system. Many feel that Vietnam’s university programmes are producing some of the best trained graduates in the region, but also some of the worst. The Ministry of Education and Training’s Deputy Nguyen Minh Hien suggested the blame lay with teaching standards at elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels.
“Looking back at my education, we were taught the book,” Ms. Nguyen Phuong Lan elaborates about Vietnam’s pedagogical approach, “Today, in Vietnam, I do think the government recognizes that from K-12 we don’t want to box in our young generation. They think the curriculum should support our children’s growth and help them to achieve their full potential,” she adds about the prospective changes to the lives of the 1.8 million students in Hanoi and 1.6 million in Ho Chi Minh City who currently access kindergartens, schools, and high schools—besides many more nationwide.
There does seem to be genuine government-level interest in using the national curriculum to further develop Vietnam’s school-age generation in readiness for the 21st century job market. According to Vietnam News, the revised curriculum “could very well shatter the typical image of Vietnamese schools as places where students learn the same things and have the same ideas.”
The flexible competency-based curriculum, although still in its draft form, aims to offer a mix of traditional subjects such as maths, literature, foreign languages, geography, history, chemistry, biology, and computer science, with new subjects that focus on developing creativity and the cognitive and behavioral skills that will help graduates find and thrive in their jobs.
“The government now is forward-thinking and they recognize the need to examine the impact of the curriculum on the learners. The major changes will be to focus on STEM and interdisciplinary learning, and they will also look to promote innovation and creative skills,” EMG’s Chairwoman, Ms. Nguyen Phuong Lan, adds. “This also presents huge opportunities for publishers, as there will be widespread revisions to materials.”
“It’s not going to be easy”
However, originally scheduled for implementation in 2018, the curriculum is now likely to be introduced for the 2019-20 academic year. Besides worries over spiraling costs, behind the delays are further concerns about the abilities of the existing cohort of teachers to adapt to these significant changes—The Dean of Hanoi National University of Education suggested that in Vietnam as many as 90% of all teachers’ skills are substandard.
Allied to the need for better trained teachers is a perceived requirement to move away from teachers preparing students for national exams, which often precludes the opportunity to develop soft skills. As one senior specialist reviewing the plans for the World Bank predicted: “It’s not going to be easy. The previous curriculum that was launched in 2001 with a similar idea failed because we didn’t have enough of the elements required, most importantly, competent teachers.”Read more