2016 in Review

The education sector and comprehensive reform efforts

Thursday, 2016-12-15 08:20:24
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Students at Hanoi Medical University during practice. (Credit: NDO)
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NDO—The year 2016 has seen significant achievements and efforts from the entire education sector, contributing to boosting its growth.

However, to successfully implement the policy of comprehensively renovating the education sector, a range of problems need to be resolved, particularly by reforming examinations and enrollment at all levels and ensuring the effective deployment of improved personnel training programmes to meet the needs of national socioeconomic development.

Examinations and enrollment have yet to meet expectations

2016 is the second year the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) has organised the national high school exam towards efficiency and reducing the pressure on students and their families, as well as the burden on society. The exam has two purposes: evaluating prospective high school graduates based on their exam results and using such results for university and college admissions.

There were 120 exam venues, including 70 hosted by universities and colleges and 50 by local Departments of Education and Training, for a total of 887,404 registered candidates to sit their exams this year.

This year’s national high school exam addressed several limitations of last year’s event, but there are still some shortcomings, such as the fact that two types of exam venues still exist, forcing a large number of teachers and lecturers from universities and colleges to move to local venues to superintend the exam; that the exam’s questions still did not cover the majority of textbook curricula; that the long exam time, especially on longer exam dates, has made it difficult for students to adapt; and that exam assessments for essay tests seemed not to ensure absolute objectivity as the assessment still depended heavily on the teachers who mark the tests.

In addition, the fact that the number of “virtual candidates” had not been updated and the number of registered candidates has not been made public caused difficulties for universities and colleges in admission.

In 2017, the MOET intends to make several reforms to the exam, including applying objective questionnaire testing methods to most of the tests (except for those in literature) to create technical barriers to ensure more reliable test results while eliminating most of the negatives that may arise during examinations and their assessment.

Pondering educational renovation schemes and projects

Along with the renewal in examination and evaluation, 2016 also marked the end of the whole or several stages of a number of the sector’s major comprehensive educational innovation projects.

In particular, the Vietnam’s new school model, the Vietnam Escuela Nueva (VNEN) project, officially launched in 2013 with a total capital of US$87.6 million, ended this year. VNEN aimed at renovating methods of teaching, learning and student assessment, as well as making changes to classroom organisation and the involvement of families and the community in the educational process.

After three years of implementation, the model was applied in 4,437 primary schools, plus 1,161 secondary schools implementing VNEN for their sixth graders and 1,035 adopting it for seventh grade classes. The model has helped to create a friendly and democratic education environment in schools and classrooms, to facilitate students in becoming more active in self-study and improving the enhanced relationship among the schools, students’ parents and the community.

However, the project also proved unsuitable for conditions in several locales, while educational managers and staff have not been well prepared for the model’s deployment, and its mass application even in locales with difficulties in teaching staff and educational facilities caused concern among the public.

Therefore, the MOET has encouraged educational institutions to deploy the VNEN model on a voluntary basis, ensuring its practical effects and maintaining its deployment throughout the school level for the benefit of students.

Kids at Sai Dong Kindergarten learning with foreign teachers. (Credit: NDO)

Along with the new school model project, 2016 also marked the end of the first phase of the VND9.4 trillion (US$413.6 million) project on facilitating foreign language teaching and learning in the national education system during 2008-2020. In its first period, from 2008-2015, the scheme was allocated over VND3.8 trillion.

It aims to raise the domestic foreign language qualification framework to match the six degree criteria set by the Association of Language Testers in Europe. Accordingly, students graduating from primary education could achieve the first proficiency level, from secondary education achieving the second qualification level, and those graduating from the high school level and from non–foreign language study universities could reach the third level in the foreign language capability framework.

Despite generating great expectations, by the end of 2016, the project revealed some overreached objectives compared with the reality. During its implementation, foreign language testing and evaluation has not been taken seriously. Foreign language teaching methods seemed to be obsolete, with a lack of foreign language teachers and their uneven capacity in different regions and locales.

Such factors had resulted in foreign language tests’ negative results after the 2016 national high school exam, with the average score at only 3.43 points. Of those, 399,429 examinees achieved fewer than 5 points (84%) and only 74,566 candidates achieved 5 points or more (16%). For that reason, in the 2016-2020 period, MOET made several changes to the project’s objectives and implementation methods.

A “push” for training quality

In 2016, many universities have improved their teaching quality and ensured that graduates have suitable jobs, meeting the requirements of the labour market.

As of October 2016, Vietnam has 239 tertiary education facilities, including 179 public and 60 private ones. MOET has continued to closely manage the opening of training programmes, putting a stop to the opening of some training branches with signs of excess manpower, such as training for teaching staff at universities and colleges or accounting, business administration and banking and finance degrees at facilities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

The ministry also halted training programmes in the form of remote training for teachers, declined enrolment for lower levels in universities and reorganised doctoral degree training to improve training quality.

Implementing the policies mentioned above, the training size in colleges and universities during the 2015-2016 academic year were down by 7% from the previous year. In particular, the form of joint working and studying (dual studies) training and tertiary level distance training were down by 13% and 16.3%, respectively.

Notably, 2016 also marked a milestone in the cooperation between the MOET and the Government on a project to promulgate the Vietnam National Quality Framework, serving as a basis on which for training facilities to build up graduation standards for their students and modify and supplement training programmes to suit the requirements of the country’s socioeconomic development in the context of regional and international integration.

Changes in the last academic year made in higher education have helped result in considerable progress. The rankings of domestic universities in the region and around the world continue to improve. According to QS University Rankings Asia, in 2016 the Vietnam National University, Hanoi jumped to No. 139 (compared with 191 in 2015 rankings), while Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, ranked No. 147. Meanwhile, according to the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, many universities in Vietnam are on the list of the best schools in Asia.

So far, 44 training programmes have been verified as meeting the standards of the ASEAN University Network (AUN), sixteen programmes as approaching the standards of the French Engineering Degree Commission (CTI) and two programmes with standards set by the US’s leading prestigious Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

It can be said that 2016 is about to end with encouraging results in the fundamental and comprehensive renovation of education in Vietnam. However, these renovations remain difficult and require the sector to accept criticism and develop more effective methods for 2017.

MANH XUAN
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