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Research report

Promising practice: government schools in Vietnam

Tony McAleavy, Tran Thai Ha and Rachael Fitzpatrick

This report investigates what lies behind Vietnam's learning success.

Vietnam’s government schools have attracted a great deal of international attention since the publication of the 2012 PISA student tests: Vietnamese students performed particularly well in science, ranking eighth globally out of 65 participating jurisdictions; Vietnam maintained this position in 2015.

We partnered with the Vietnam Institute of Educational Sciences to find out how and why Vietnam has been so successful. Adopting a mixed-methodology approach for an insightful qualitative view of the Vietnam phenomenon, we conducted a policy analysis, a survey of parents, reviewed available secondary data, and conducted qualitative fieldwork in contrasting four provinces in Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Binh Dinh and Ha Giang). The aim of the research was to explore the country’s approach to educational improvement and our investigation has identified five key features of the Vietnamese school system that contributed to its success, each of which is explored in detail in our report:

  1. Purposeful policy: the government of Vietnam has consistently stated, over many years, that education is a national priority. Vietnam’s longstanding commitment to devote at least 20% of public expenditure to education has focussed on improving both access to school and the quality of learning. Participants spoke of a two-way communication where ineffective policies are reported back up the system from the schools.
  2. High levels of accountability: the Vietnamese system can be characterised by high levels of accountability at all levels. Teachers are held to account through self-review and peer review, in addition to the school principal who behaves as an in-school inspector. This internal accountability is coupled with a robust regime of external accountability, where principals are monitored by educational authorities in addition to peer review by other schools.
  3. The quality of teaching and teachers: teaching in Vietnam is a highly respected profession. The teacher workforce is better qualified than before and well regarded by many parents. However, teachers are paid badly with many teachers supplementing their income by working as private tutors. Teachers are responsible for their own professional development and informally engage in professional development in subject groups within their schools.
  4. School leadership that focusses on the classroom: principals in Vietnam have clearly defined roles as leaders of teaching and learning. School charters from the Ministry formally identify the principal as the key person responsible for internal management and education quality. Principals spoke confidently and consistently to us about what it meant to be a high-quality teacher.
  5. Partnership between schools and parents: the Vietnamese government encourages high levels of partnership between schools and parents. Parents in our survey expressed high levels of satisfaction with the government school system. Parents are expected to contribute to schools financially, but also to have active involvement in their child’s learning.

Listen to a podcast from Tony McAleavy Director of Research and Consultancy and Rachael Fitzpatrick, Research Officer discussing key findings from the report: