Preprimary & Primary Education
After the reunification of the two Vietnams in 1976, the government extended the crèche system functioning in the Viet Cong-held areas to the rest of South Vietnam. A southern division of the Commission for the Protection of Mothers and Children Ministry was created. In 1987, the care for education of preschool age children in the entire country was integrated into the "Young Shoot" education and was brought directly under the Ministry of Education and Training. Two years later, the government established the Commission of Child Care with, from 1991, a member of the Cabinet as Chairman of the Commission. In 1996, the Eighth Congress of the Party specifically urged the government to provide "young shoot" education for all 5-year-olds by 2000 to prepare them for entry into grade 1. A further target was announced to provide "young shoot" education to all in the age group of 3 months to 5 years by the year 2020.
The importance the government gives to preschool education is reflected in the "Objectives and Plans for Preschool Education" issued in 1990 by the Ministry of Education. The broader objectives of the "Young Shoot" education as stated in the Ministry's circular include: "promoting initial elements of the personality of a Vietnamese citizen, refraining from any imposition or constraint, showing love for children and respecting their personality, and taking the mother-daughter-like sentiments between nurses and children as a decisive factor." It must further aim at achieving "a harmonious combination between care, maintenance, and education so as to secure an all-round development of children."
The content of children's education in crèches and infant schools, as outlined by the Ministry, includes: education about "movements and sensations;" observation of the environment around them (natural and social); moral education and shaping of personality; personal hygiene and "environmental hygiene;" and physical education. In terms of preparation for first grade, the infants should be introduced to the Vietnamese language and "approach to literature;" music and "rhythmic movements;" and mathematics. Significantly, the objectives include giving scientific knowledge of children's education and health to the parents.
There are two kinds of facilities for preschool education in Vietnam, officially called "regular forms" and "irregular forms." Regular forms have crèches for children from 3 to 36 months of age and infant "young shoot" schools for children from 3 to 5 years of age. Some of the facilities combine crèches and infant schools. The crèches are divided into sections according to the children's age and named after their diet. Thus, the 3- to 13-month-old group is called the "flour-fed" group; the 13- to 18-month-old group is called the "soupfed" group; the 19- to 24-month-old group is named the "wet boiled rice-fed" group; and the 25- to 36-month-old group is called the "rice-fed" group.
In the urban areas, the crèches typically operate 10 hours a day, including a lunch and a nap. Some facilities operate in two shifts of a half-day each and there are still others which adjust to shifts in factories. In the rural areas, most crèches operate seasonally, enabling peasant men and women to tend to agriculture without having to worry about caring for their infants.
The infant "young shoot" schools are divided into 3 sections according to age: the 3-year-old small infant group, the 4-year-old medium infant group, and the 5-year-old elder infant group. They operate on the same pattern as crèches, adjusting to labor shifts and rural seasonal work. Since 1996, the Ministry of Education has insisted that the 5-year-olds attend a minimum of 36 weeks as a preparation to first grade.
Irregular forms involve informal but regular arrangements between a child-keeping group and the families sending their children there. Except for the 5-year-old children, preparing for admission to first grade, the program in the irregular forms is fairly flexible—though guidelines for running them are provided by the Ministry of Education. The classes for the 5-year-olds must provided education for 36 sessions of about 150 minutes each.
There are about 13,000 crèches providing education to about 600,000 children from 3 months to 3 years of age. There are about 85,000 teachers in the crèches with a 7.5:1 student-teacher ratio. The budget allocation from the Ministry of Education to the crèches amounted to 5.3 percent of the total, which was 40.0 percent higher than what is given to infant schools. Infant schools are receiving less attention than before from the government; there are about 7,000 infant schools in Vietnam with about 75,000 teachers and a student enrollment of children from 3 to 6 years, numbering 1,600,000, giving a student-teacher ratio of 21.3:1. The infant schools receive only about 3 percent of the Ministry of Education's budget.
The number of infant schools has remained fairly constant since the liberalization of 1986. Thus, in 1986-1987, there were 6,117 schools with 76,059 teachers and 1,768,938 students. A decade later, In 1995-1996, there were 7,213 schools with 75,034 teachers and 1,931,611 children enrolled. In general, crèches and infant schools attached to large government enterprises function well—as do the schools attached to large private sector companies particularly where foreign investment or management is involved. Those in the delta areas function better than those catering to tribal minorities or mountainous areas.
Following the economic liberalization in 1986, government subsidies especially to crèches and child-minding groups have declined. The Ministry of Education continues to inspect all facilities but is less insistent on standards in all but infant classes for 5-year-olds. In 2000 there were about 800,000 children in infant schools for 5-year-olds, which accounted for 50 percent of all the other infant classes combined. Though the Ministry's interest in preschool education itself (except for 5-year-olds) has declined, the government has stepped up its health program in crèches and infant schools through more regular health check-ups and vaccination programs. Also, the Ministry of Education has upgraded its program of educating young parents in the areas of child care and health and education.
Despite the sincere efforts on the part of the government, the care of children in preschool stage is unsatisfactory. In this respect, the government has served well in being its own critic. The annual reports of the Ministry of Education and Training blame the deficiencies on insufficient budget allocations noting that, in 1996, as many as 46 percent of the children below the age of 6 suffered from malnutrition; crèches lacked enough numbers of trained nurses or "child-minders," so the hygiene conditions in the preschool facilities were generally poor and too often the children were "left to play by themselves with a few toys." The Ministry of Education has also deplored the tendency to include in the preschool teaching information suitable to primary education level. It urges greater efforts to develop skills in language and independent thinking among the infants. Furthermore, the government would like to "achieve coordination with families in cultivating in children humane sentiments—the foundation of personality" and "concrete manifestations of a polite behavior in family and towards teachers and friends."
Most primary education in Vietnam since 1975 has been provided through the public system. Officially, it is compulsory and free, though in practice, students are charged sizable fees for various services; parents are encouraged to make "voluntary contributions" toward construction and major purchases. The basic cycle of primary and secondary education consists of 5 years of primary school, 4 years of lower secondary school, 3 years of upper secondary school, and 2 to 6 years of higher or professional education. Those who do not go for higher education join the secondary/vocational school or enter the labor force.
In keeping with the economic liberalization since 1986, there has emerged a non-public system that includes semi-public, private, and community schools. It parallels the country's move from a centrally-planned system to a market economy. The economically comfortable families prefer to send their children to semi-public or private schools. A World Bank study in late 1998 concluded that willingness to spend on education increased as household incomes rose and that given the marginally small cost of switching from public to private schools, it was not surprising that the number of private schools has increased rapidly.
In 1997, there were 11,683 primary schools and 2,093 "basic general" schools, which combined primary and lower secondary level classes. To alleviate the financial stringency, the government encouraged joint efforts by the state and the people in the construction of school buildings, in all communes and hamlets. Such joint efforts extended to "voluntary contributions" from parents toward other costs as well. In most cases, the extra income thus generated is allowed to be kept by the schools for supplementing the teachers' meager salaries and for the purchase of the much-needed equipment.
In keeping with the pattern in Communist societies, school children are infused with a spirit of loyalty to the state, placing the good of the state above the good of the individual or the family. As the Ministry of Education states: "The aim of primary education [perhaps applicable to all levels] is to cultivate in pupils a need for and an interest in study and the collective life, and give shape to good feelings, knowledge, attitudes and habits. These are initial bases required for the gradual promotion of ideals and ethics of the new Vietnamese man." There is no elaboration of what these "ideals and ethics" mean. These are defined by the Communist Party from time to time, often at the prestigious meetings of the Party Congress that take place every few years.
The Ministry of Education outlines the curriculum of primary education under five headings: education in the world outlook, ideology, politics, law, ethics, and behavior; cultural and scientific education; labor and vocational education; physical education and hygiene; and aesthetics. The Ministry requires the schools to teach each of these subjects under three rubrics: knowledge, skills, and attitude.
The "Teaching Plan" approved by the Ministry of Education on May 16, 1986, for all five years of primary education is split into two categories: seven subjects and four kinds of activities. The subjects are: Vietnamese language, mathematics, ethics, nature and society, labor, art, and physical education. In 1991, two subjects were added by splitting art into fine arts and songs (music) and physical education into physical education and gymnastics. The activities include: collective activity by groups of five students, salute to the national flag, mid-class relaxation, gymnastics, and meetings to discuss subjects of general and political interest. All these subjects and activities were taught weekly as one lesson each except for the following: the Vietnamese language was to be taught in 12 lessons out of a total of 22 in first grade, tapering to 8 lessons out of 23 in fifth grade; mathematics from 3 lessons in first grade, increasing to 5 in fifth grade; nature and society from l lesson in first grade to 3 in the fourth and fifth grades; and labor from 1 lesson in first grade to 3 in fifth grade. In its annual reports, the Ministry, however, laments that while this is an ideal plan, the paucity of funds, unavailability of adequate number of teachers, and poor infrastructure have limited the teaching in most primary schools only to 4 subjects, namely, Vietnamese language, mathematics, ethics, and nature and society. In December 1996, the Communist Party's Central Committee resolved that by the year 2000, all primary schools would be required to teach all nine subjects in the "Teaching Plan." It proved to be yet another instance when the government's performance has fallen short of the Party's lofty wishes.
Based on the objectives of education and the teaching plan, the Ministry of Education gets textbooks and teachers' books prepared and published. Beginning in the school year of 1981-1982, it launched a scheme to publish what it called "reformed books" for one grade of primary education each year. Thus, every five years, a cycle of book replacement for the 5-year primary education would be completed. This helps revision and upgrading of the content of the textbooks not only in terms of information but also in terms of what the Party thinks are the changing needs of the society. Three such cycles have been completed. There was substantial revision in the first two cycles but very little in the third.
Enrollment and attendance in primary schools in the 1990s was on the increase in most provinces, with the national average being 80 percent. The number of children attending the first grade was as high as 98 to 99 percent in the two delta regions. The national average was brought down by the mountainous provinces where the figure dropped to 60 to 70 percent. The statistics show that in some provinces, the enrollment of children in grade 1 exceeded 100 percent of the children in that age group because the government made primary education compulsory in 1994, compelling those aged 6 to 11 years who had failed to attend primary schools in the past to do so. Another consequence is that there are a number of children far above the normal age of six in first grade.
In 1996, there were 10,200,000 students in primary schools of whom 4,860,000 million were females. There has been a steady number of entrants at about 2,000,000 students every year, rising from 2,062,507 in 1986-1987 to 2,348,655 in 1995-1996. In 1996, there were 298,407 teachers at the primary level, of whom 224,955 were women, with a student-teacher ratio of approximately 30:1. There were 11,683 primary schools and 2,093 basic general schools, which included primary education. In 1996, the government claimed that there was a primary school facility in every commune down to each hamlet throughout the country.
About 50 percent of the students at the primary level complete the 5 years of primary education. There is no automatic promotion and there are those who fail a class. The numbers of repeaters at the primary level rose from 8.46 percent in 1986-1987 to 12.35 percent in 1991 but dropped progressively to 6.91 percent in 1996. The dropout rate fell from 11 percent in 1989 to 5 percent in 1995.
Those who pass the fifth grade receive a diploma of primary education. They have the option of taking a general examination conducted by the provincial office of education. Until 1996-1997, there were national competitions in the Vietnamese language and mathematics for which there would be between 400 and 500 prizes. These were abandoned in favor competition for the title "excellent pupil of primary school." About three-quarters of all the students in the primary division enter the lower secondary schools.
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