Vietnam - Educational System—overview
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A point of commonness between the two halves of Vietnam was the importance given to education. The Constitution of 1967 provided equal access to all citizens to education, made basic education free and compulsory, and declared that "talented persons who do not have the means will be given aid and support to continue their studies." Facing the high percentage of illiteracy, the government conducted an active literacy campaign. Enrollment at the primary level was increased from 441,000 students in 1954 to more than 2,500,000 in 1973, nearly 85 percent of the children in the age group from 6 to 11.
Unlike in North Vietnam, the education system in the South continued along the lines laid by the French, the former colonial rulers. It offered a series of examinations with considerable wastage at every stage. Thus, only about 60 percent of those who took the examination at the end of the fifth grade would qualify to enter the secondary school. Many of these did not enter the secondary school; only about 25 percent did. Of the secondary school students, only about 40 percent passed the first baccalaureate examination at the end of the eleventh grade; only 40 percent of those who took the second baccalaureate examination at the end of the twelfth grade passed. Consequently, only an estimated 20 percent of those in the secondary school age group of 12 to 17 remained in school.
The National Education Conference in 1964 was a landmark for introducing changes in the education system. First, South Vietnam was divided into four categories based on economic and cultural differences: the Mekong Delta, central highlands, coastal regions, and the capital. Separate curricula were devised to suit these differences. Secondly, it was recognized that the old French system emphasizing memorization did not promote thinking and analysis; therefore, the pedagogical faculty at the University of Saigon and 11 specially selected schools were brought together to devise a curriculum that would incorporate industrial arts for males, home economics for females, and business education for both. Analysis and problem-solving techniques were emphasized. A new center was created in the Ministry of Education to produce newer kinds of educational materials all the way from elementary to secondary levels.
Progressively from the late 1950s, French suffered as a language of instruction and importance. Just as in the north, Vietnamese replaced it as the medium of instruction. With the growth of American influence and the increasing use of English in U.S.-South Vietnam military interaction and international business, English became the most popular option at the secondary and higher education levels. By the time South Vietnam came under communist rule in 1975, more than 80 percent of the students took English as their modern language option. From the mid-1960s, the national institutes in administration, agriculture, and technology—as well as the community colleges—adopted American models for their curriculum, faculty development, teaching methodologies, and physical equipment.
As in the North, the South Vietnamese attached considerable importance to the education of their children. Those who could afford the cost preferred to send their wards to private schools, which absorbed as many students as the state-run schools. The elementary education lasting five years was compulsory.
Unlike in the communist North Vietnam, there were private schools run by the Catholic Church, nondenominational private schools, and those run by the Chinese community numbering more than 1,000,000 centered in Saigon's twin city, Cholon. Although the Chinese schools were officially required to teach only in Vietnamese, in practice, they did so only in Chinese. They followed the curriculum of the educational system in Taiwan and took examinations conducted by the education board there for graduation.
The secondary school took seven years of education split into two cycles of four and three years. The first cycle provided general education after which the students could choose to specialize in any one of the four options: experimental science, science and mathematics, modern humanities, and classical humanities. At the end of the two cycles, students took the government-administered national examination and, upon passing it, received the school leaving certificate. After two years of the second cycle, students could opt for a three-year cycle of vocational/technical education.
Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, South Vietnam was integrated with the system obtaining in the north and the entire country renamed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV). As part of the task of reconstruction in the south, the new government dispersed the population of the cities, which had been a haven for millions of those who had fled the bombardment of the villages during the war. Several millions were relocated in the New Economic Zones on the Cambodia border or in the central highlands. Large numbers of prostitutes, estimated by the World Health Organization at 400,000, and pimps were included in this rehabilitation program.
From 1975 till the major economic reforms of 1986, Vietnam followed socialist policies of high command economy and political centralization, extending the collectivization of agriculture to South Vietnam and nationalizing of all economic and industrial enterprises including foreign enterprises. Between 1980 and 1885, the government adopted half-hearted liberal measures including family-based contract systems and promoting state-private joint enterprises. The economic stagnation continued until l986 when the proponents, within the Vietnamese Communist Party, of economic liberalization along the lines followed by China came to power. The new policy, styled doi moi (politics of renovation) led to the abandonment of centralized planning in favor of decision-making by factory managers in terms of equipment, production targets, and sources of finance. Major incentives were provided to attract foreign investment in all sectors except defense. The collapse of Marxism in the Soviet Union and East European countries accelerated the process toward a state-managed market economy but without concomitant liberalization in the political process.
The doi moi policies registered spectacular economic gains in the growth in GDP, in savings and investment rates, and exports. They brought in large amounts of foreign investment, liberalized the banking structure, and made the currency stable. These measures, among others, led to the lifting of the economic embargo by the United States and made loans and grants by the IMF, World Bank, and Western donors possible.