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In a recent interview, Dr. Manzoor Ahmed, Professor Emeritus, BRAC University, interpreted the education status of some Asian countries which are much more similar in contextual and other relevant factors as in Bangladesh (the Prothom Alo, 5 October 2020). Dr. Manzoor Ahmed opined that before 50 years, the education status of Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia was not so good compared to Bangladesh. However, now they are in an advanced position, made substantial progress and we should analyze the facts, dig out the under-pinning factors and replicate the approach and methods to the way forward. This is undoubtedly an imperative message that we should think about and analyze how these countries can accomplish and why we do not perform to flame the candle.
The actual education reform in Vietnam which they call renovation started in 1975 when two separate education systems of two parts of the country, North and South Vietnam, unified under a national system. Initially, the national curriculum was fragmented and characterized by congestion of subject offerings as the students received instructional programs in up to 13 subjects in a school day. Although there was an endeavor for high enrollment and high literacy rates, it was scrawny with overage enrollment, early drop out, and uneven access and participation rates. Generally, quality teaching was considered feeble and overly protected in the academic delivery of subject content. Simultaneously, the teaching-learning process and instructional methods and materials were not exactly robust in action as the teacher training and other relevant systems were not well-functioning.
Strategies to vindicate or streamline a very hefty subject number dominated curriculum reform was put in place in 1981/82 and again in the 1986/87 academic years. The next attempt was in 1994. In 1994, the Vietnam government generated a strategy to reduce the number of subjects studied in school to make school education more responsive to labour market demands and requirements. This robust education reform was transmitted to development in late 1997 when a framework was organized to modernize education to support wide-ranging market reforms. The education reform strategy accommodated simultaneously two wings, the education system strengthening and private sector provisions intensifying. The previous four-tiered education system (pre-school, general, vocational and higher education) had been revised to enable substantial growth in general secondary education at the expense of rationalizing and reducing structures in vocational education.
During 1997, the student enrollment increased rigorously and to accommodate this compression, the education system entered a process of restructuring and preparing those students for a workforce driven by market forces. There was a burden of huge textbooks; by the year 1997/98 academic year, the required number of textbooks for year 6-9 was around 50 for each year.
There were some other curriculum reform attempts, but all those did not click with bat and ball. The attempts in the 1980s and 1990s may have the chance to be failed as it had not allowed essential time to the plodding installation of a policy and legal framework to enable demanded education reforms. In many respects, this framework reflects government endeavors to accelerate market reform and eventually, this development has been proved best historically.
How the process of education reform worked
In 1993, the government re-committed to continue the renovation of education and again, they realized that investments in education are one of the principal directions of investment for development. Consequently, the Prime Minister determined to set up a new general framework for the national education system to improve access to school education, strengthen transition rates to and retention in lower secondary school education, and advance the standards and refine the structure of higher education. Eventually, there had been an increase in the government budget dedicated to education and with that, gradual improvements in the provision of education. The government allocation increased by nearly 12% of the national budget (World Bank, 1996). Still, it was inconsequential to fund an inclusive qualitative and quantitative upgrading of learning, teaching, resources and facilities. So, the government acknowledged six huge scale development programs encompassing 32 distinct projects that engrossed the international donor community with a suggestive investment portfolio for solidifying and modernizing Vietnam’s education system.
The policymaker perceived and intensified the guiding principle as ‘investment for education is an investment for development.’ In turn, this policy statement got support from multilateral investors, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It is remarkably significant that Vietnam maintained a very convenient relationship with education evolution, simultaneously with the subregional development planning. The education reform process reached a practical ground when a joint study was generated by the Ministry of Education of Training (MOET), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UNESCO held in 1991. The study pointed out some substantial gaps and weaknesses throughout the system. These are-
- A deterioration in the quantity and quality of general education.
- Poor linkages between vocational technical education, production and employment.
- Irrelevance of higher education and poor linkages to research, production and employment.
- An inappropriate organization and training system.
- The inadequacy of education and training in a changing society (SRV, 1995, pp 24-25).
Finding the gaps, the report also recommended a strategic direction for improvement. The gradual actions included universalization of primary education by 2000, progress towards universal lower secondary education by 2005 with nation-wide coverage by 2010, and improved linkages between secondary, technical and vocational education.
Over time government comprehended that there were some areas like teacher training, curriculum and evaluation methods, improved designed and supply of teaching aids and provision of reading materials though libraries for the secondary students were weak areas that should be strengthening. The government was also worried about the performance of MOET for curriculum design and developing textbooks.
The administration understood that number of disadvantaged populations and communities are left behind for admittance to education and textbooks. They were inaccessible and out of reach of mainstream basic education and other basic social services. Consequently, the management expanded boarding schools and worked out an arrangement for employees’ and intellectuals’ training with the ethnic marginal origin. For supporting ethnic minority and vulnerable groups, government took massive interventions like building schools in flooded areas and mountain areas, building typhoon resistant schools, progression of lower secondary schools in underprivileged areas diversifying non-formal education etc. ADB was concerned about inequalities of education and consequently encouraged to focus programming activity in several of these areas. They promoted through a loan project to modernizing lower secondary school curriculum, reducing number of subjects and rewriting of textbooks to reflect a new and learner curriculum framework.
In 1997, the Prime Minister proclaimed Vietnam’s education development strategy for 1996 to 2020 which accentuated on formalizing education growth strategy in modernizing and industrialization. The ministry of education was tasked to formulating the policy strategy document through to the year 2020 and the details of the instrument of the World Bank and ADB supported basic education programs were engrossed by the bigger initiative. Having these changes, the ministry placed a strategic plan for the national education reform covering 1996-2000, 2001-2005, 2006-2010 and 2011-2020. They amid for universalization of primary education by 2005 and simultaneously they planned for universalization of secondary education with curriculum restructuring introduction by 2000 or 2001 and accomplished by 2010.
The Prime Minister’s promulgation and minister’s strategic plan successfully became the national plan for the opportunity and direction of education reform. In Vietnam, many institutions or agencies were involved in decision making which sometimes delayed the process. The policymakers had determined that the curriculum was too problematic for most students and quality and access could be enhanced if the curriculum was simplified. By the early1990s, the lower secondary school curriculum was based and systematized around 20 subjects and activities. Students are provided with skills and systematic knowledge of humanity, science, society, and general procedures in lower secondary education. It reflects citizenship education, occupation training and working skills very imperative. Amongst these subjects, mathematics, literature, physics, chemistry, biology and foreign languages are considers the most important. Having all these activities, MOET was researching to modernize aims, curricula, and teaching approaches in lower secondary education to encounter socioeconomic advancement requirements. In Vietnam, the curriculum is not grounded on a prearranged syllabus that sets out such standards as student learning objectives and consequences, approaches to learning and teaching strategies. Relatively, the curriculum is grounded on students and teachers working their way through a huge number of textbooks in a lock-sequenced series of lessons.
As the subject teachers were trained to teach particular subjects, there was diminutive opportunity for teachers to associate the teaching of several subjects. In such cases where teachers are tough to recruit or in petite supply, a subject specialist’s absenteeism results in that subject not being accessible. So, students’ acquaintance was inadequate and resulted in poor problem-solving skills. So, the education department acknowledged that students habitually only acquire what will be in their examinations. MOET was investigating ways to condense subjects’ quantity as precursors for strengthening school education and making the curriculum more pertinent to Vietnam’s ambition for modernization. MOET put procedures to empower leading officials and academics to determine the theoretical and conceptual foundation for justifying the changes.
The exemplary success of education reform in Vietnam
- Rendering to World Bank data, the average primary school enrollment rate for low-income countries was 76 percent in 1997, but surprisingly, it was 100 percent for Vietnam.
- The analogous figure for secondary school net enrollment rate was 51 percent for low-income countries, but in the case of Vietnam it was 55 percent (World Bank, 2001).
- A study was conducted among four countries including Vietnam, India, Ethiopia and Peru exploring learning advancement in mathematics. The result shows that the levels of achievement and learning progress in mathematics are higher on average in Vietnam at all ages than in the other countries (Rolleston et al. 2013).
The observation and analysis
Having a long-time renovation of education in Vietnam, there were many turning points in policy-making for the development of human resources, upgrading and modernizing education for expediting production and economy. Targeting this aim and objective, situation assessment, curriculum development, generation of teaching-learning methods and learning aids regarding basic education and lower secondary education were continuous. There were some trial and error, continuous analysis of the situation, and learning from success and failure in renovation progression. Grasping all those in analysis, some significant points could be learning and replicable in other counties’ comparable situations. Some of the important points and learnings are as follows:
- The government continuously tried to identify the facts and issues regarding human resources development and social advancement to support its economy and industrialization in parity with the modernizing supply and demand chain.
- When and where the situation demanded, the announcement regarding policy and strategy was declared by the government’s top leader shaping the whole thing as imperative and making the concern inclusive.
- The government was so committed and determined to achieve progress in education that they increased the allocation for education by nearly 12% of the national budget as per World Bank data (1996).
- Contemporaneously, Vietnam expends a relatively high proportion of GDP and public expenditure on education; 5.3 percent of GDP and 19.8 percent of public expenditure.
- Disparity and inequalities were addressed in time to protect the vulnerable section of people and in hard to reach areas as well.
- The international donor community was committed to finding the issues to understand the crisis of education and support appropriate development interventions.
- Continuous measures were taken for developing curriculum, textbooks, teaching aids and methods, teacher training and other issues in relevant ranges.
Rigorous deliberate effort and hard determination can be the vehicle for development and Vietnam is an example of this. The situation, geographical location, culture and practices in Bangladesh are not the same as in Vietnam; thus, the policy and strategy for the development of education might differ in Bangladesh. Nevertheless, commitment and endeavours and accomplishment are learning for all.