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Education in Vietnam

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Education in Vietnam

School children in Vietnam

Education in Vietnam is divided into five levels: preschool, primary school, secondary school, high school and higher education. Formal education consists of twelve years of basic education. Basic education consists of five years of primary education, four years of intermediate education, and three years of secondary education. The majority of basic education students are enrolled on a half-day basis.

The main educational goal in Vietnam is improving people’s general knowledge, training quality human resources and nurturing and fostering talent.[1] With one of the highest GDP growth rates in Asia,[2] Vietnam is currently trying to overhaul its education system, with the importance of internationalizing the education system to maintain the rapid economic growth of the last two decades.


  • Types of educational establishments 1
  • School grades 2
  • Academic grading 3
  • Pre-primary education 4
  • Primary education 5
  • Intermediate/ Lower secondary education 6
  • High school education 7
    • High Graduation Examination 7.1
  • Higher education 8
    • Types of Higher Education Institutions 8.1
    • Higher education qualifications 8.2
  • Teaching quality issues 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11

Types of educational establishments

Regarding ownership, as prescribed in Article 44 of Vietnam’s Education Law, there are four types of educational establishments:

  • Public education establishments: established and monitored by the State. The State also nominates their administrators and decides staff quota. The State invests in infrastructure and allocates funding for their regular spending tasks.
  • Semi-public educational establishments: set up by the State on the basis of mobilizing organizations and individuals in the society to jointly invest in infrastructure.
  • People-founded educational establishments: Social or economic organizations apply for permission from the State to set up an institution with non-State budget capital.
  • Private educational establishments: Individuals or groups of individuals apply for permission from the State to set up and invest in the institution by themselves.
The semi-public, people-founded and private educational establishments are referred collectively to as non-public educational establishments.[3]
Level/Grade Typical age
Pre-school playgroup 3-4
Kindergarten 4-6
Primary school
First grade 6-7
Second grade 7-8
Third grade 8-9
Fourth grade 9-10
Fifth grade 10-11
Secondary school
Sixth grade 11–12
Seventh grade 12-13
Eighth grade 13–14
Ninth grade 14-15
High school
Tenth grade 15–16
Eleventh grade 16–17
Twelfth grade 17–18
Post-secondary education
Tertiary education (College or University) Ages vary (usually four years,
referred to as Freshman,
Sophomore, Junior and
Senior years)

School grades

The school year is divided into two semesters. The first semester begins in late August and ends some time before Lunar New Year, while the second one begins right after the first one and lasts until June.

Academic grading

Pre-primary education

Public kindergartens usually admit children ranging from 18 months to 5 years of age. Sometimes, four- or five-year-old children are taught the alphabet and basic arithmetic. This level of education is not compulsory and tends to be popular in major cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hai Phong, Can Tho and Vung Tau.

Primary education

Children normally start primary education at the age of six. Education at this level lasts for 5 years and is compulsory for all children.The country's literacy rate is over 90%.[4]

According to the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey 2006 of Vietnam’s General Statistics Office, 96% of six to 11-year-old children enrolled in primary school. However, there was still a significant disparity in the primary education completion rate among different ethnicity. While primary completion rate for Kinh students was 86%, the rate for ethnic minority children was only 61%.[5]

In school year 2009-2010, Vietnam had 15,172 primary schools and 611 combined primary and lower secondary schools. The total enrollment was 7.02 million pupils, of whom 46% were girls.[6]

The renovated primary education curriculum in Vietnam is divided into two phases as follows:

  • Phase 1 includes Grades 1, 2 and 3 with 6 subjects: Vietnamese Language, Mathematics, Morality, Nature and Society, Arts and Physical Education.
  • Phase 2 includes Grades 4 and 5 with 9 subjects: Vietnamese Language, Mathematics, Morality, Science, History, Geography, Basic Techniques, Music, Arts and Physical Education.[7]

Intermediate/ Lower secondary education

Lower secondary school (Vietnamese: trung học cơ sở) or Junior high school includes sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth grade. Until its abolition in 2006, students had to pass the Intermediate Graduation Examination (IGE) presented by the local Department of Education and Training to graduate. This educational level is homogeneous throughout most of the country, except in very remote provinces, which expect to popularize and standardize middle education within the next few years. Intermediate education is not compulsory in Vietnam.

The Lower Secondary Education’s weekly schedule includes the following subjects and activities: Vietnamese Language, Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, History, Geography, Civics, Foreign Language (most often English or French), Physical Education, Technology, Art, Music, Optional Subjects, Class Activities and School Activities, Vocational-oriented activities (3 periods per month in Grade 8 or in some cases, the summer between 7th and 8th Grade) and Extra-curricular activities (4 periods per month in all grades).

The Technology subject aims to show the link between theory and practice. It includes three parts: home economics (in Grade 6), agriculture-forestry and aquaculture (in Grade 7), Industry (in Grade 8) and optional modules (in Grade 9).[8]

High school education

High school education (Vietnamese: trung học phổ thông) consists of grades ten through twelve. The IGE is a prerequisite entrance examination for high schooling. The IGE score determines the schools at which students are able to enroll. The higher the score, the more prestigious the school.[9]

All subjects are compulsory for students.

  • Vietnamese literature (and other literatures such as Chinese, French)
  • Mathematics (consisting of separate subjects Algebra (year 10 only), Calculus (year 11 and 12 only) and Geometry (both year 10, 11 and 12))
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • History
  • Geography
  • Civics (generally consists of economics, philosophy, politics, law and ethics)
  • Foreign language (mostly English or French; Chinese and Russian are taught at some specialized schools)
  • Technology (consists of Agriculture/Horticulture, Mechanics, Electronics, Design, etc.)
  • Information Technology (Recently introduced, yet to be implemented in poorer regions. Students study basic programming in languages such as Visual FoxPro, Visual Basic and Pascal)
  • Physical Education
  • Military education and training

Advanced classes consists of either:

  • Natural sciences: Students follow an advanced curriculum (and different textbooks) in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.
  • Social sciences: Students follow an advanced curriculum (and different textbooks) in literature, history, geography and foreign language.

At the start of secondary school, students can enroll in Specialist Classes if they pass the class entrance exam, which usually consists of a Mathematics exam, a Literature exam, and an exam of the subject that the student wants to specialize in. The specialised subject can be any of the subjects listed above, except Technology, Physical Education and Civics. Students enrolled in these programs have a heavier workload than regular secondary school students. The workload varies from school to school, but grade 11 students are generally expected to study grade 12 courses concurrently. Other courses include university-level courses. Some schools go as far as requiring their students to finish secondary school by the end of grade 10.

Only prestigious schools offer these classes, and they have yet to be standardized.

High Graduation Examination

All high school students in Vietnam are required to take the national High Graduation Examination (HGE), which is administered by the Ministry of Education and Training, at the end of grade 12 to get a diploma. They still have to take the regular end-of-term examinations before taking the High Graduation Examination.

The Standard HGE includes six subjects with a maximum value of 10 points each: mathematics, Vietnamese literature, foreign language, and three alternating subjects determined by the Ministry of Education and Training, varying each year. In order to graduate, a student needs to achieve at least a total score of 30 points with no paper to achieve zero-score. A score below this or a zero-score for any subject will also disqualify a student from taking part in the University Entrance Examination.

There is also an Alternative HGE for people not studying in standardized High School, occurs the same time with the Standard HGE. The six subjects included is mathematics, Vietnamese literature, and four alternating subjects determined by the Ministry of Education and Training, varying each year, three of which is the same with those of the Standard HGE. The graduation requirements are still remain the same. [10] Nearly 1 million students sit for the Leaving Examination in late May or early June every year.[11]

Higher education

University entrance is based on the scores achieved in the entrance examination. High school graduates need high scores to be admitted to universities. Securing a place in a public university is considered a major step towards a successful career, especially for those from rural areas or disadvantaged families. The pressure on the candidates therefore remains very high, despite the measures taken to reduce the importance of these exams. In 2004, it was estimated that nearly one million students took the exam, but on average, only 20% passed.

Normally, candidates take three exams for the fixed group of subjects they choose. There are many fixed groups of subjects:

  • Group A : Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry
  • Group A1: Mathematics, Physics, English
  • Group B : Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry
  • Group C : Literature, History, Geography
  • Group D : Literature, Foreign Language, Mathematics

Group D consists of 6 subgroups based on the languages they provide in universities:

  • Group D1: entrance exam subject is English; major language in university is English, but there are also French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin and Korean.
  • Group D2: entrance exam subject is Russian; major language in university is Russian
  • Group D3: entrance exam subject is French; major language in university is French, students can choose Italian instead
  • Group D4: entrance exam subject is Chinese; major language in university is Mandarin
  • Group D5: entrance exam subject is German; major language in university is German
  • Group D6: entrance exam subject is Japanese; major language in university is Japanese

Besides these, there are also other groups for artistic and cultural education:

  • Group H: Literature,Colored Painting, Pencil Drawing
  • Group M: Literature, Mathematics, Singing and Expressive Reading, Instrument Performance (optional)
  • Group N: Literature, Tone and Melody, Vocal
  • Group R: Literature, History, Journalism
  • Group S: Literature, Theatrical Talents
  • Group T: Mathematics, Biology, Sports
  • Group V: Mathematics, Physics, Drawing

In 2007, Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training started to use multiple choice exam format for several subjects during the university entrance examination. These subjects include: Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Foreign Language. Each multiple choice exam lasts 90 minutes. The foreign language exam consists of 80 multiple choice questions; meanwhile, the Physics, Chemistry, Biology exam has 50 questions. Math, Literature, History and Geography exams still use composition format.

Starting from the entrance exam of 2013, 10 artistic and cultural universities will remove Literature from the exam of the group H, N and S. Instead, the results of three years in high school and the scores of the HGE will be used to evaluate the candidates.[12]

Types of Higher Education Institutions

Vietnamese Government decree (decree 43/2000/ND-CP, dated August 30, 2000) identified three types of higher education institutions:

In addition, there are junior college or community colleges, professional secondary schools, and vocational schools which offer degrees or certificates, after courses lasting from a few months to two years.

In the school year 2010-2011,Vietnam had a total of 163 universities (including senior colleges and institutes) and 223 junior colleges, in which 50 senior colleges and 30 junior colleges are non-public.[14]

The presence of foreign universities is increasing. Universities such as PSB International College, RMIT and University of Hawaii offer degrees in fields such as business, English as a Second Language and Information Technology. Running a foreign education system in Vietnam is challenging. Quality control and affordability are key issues, as well as red tape.

Higher education qualifications

  • Associate Degree (Vietnamese: Cao đẳng): a three-year program delivered by junior colleges (including teachers colleges and others) and also by some universities as additional training programs in Vietnam.
  • Bachelor Degree (Vietnamese: Cử nhân): a four- to six-year program in which six years for students studying medical and dental sciences; five years for students of industrial engineering and four years for the majority of other undergraduate degree in Vietnam such as Social Sciences. Graduates received degree with a title corresponding to their field of study such as bachelor (cử nhân), engineer (kỹ sư), medical doctor (bác sĩ) or lawyer (luật sư) etc.…[15]

Most of Vietnam's universities also offer master's (2 years) and Doctor of Philosophy (4 years) degrees.

Teaching quality issues

The entire higher education system is facing several crises, such as outdated curricula, a lecturer-centered method of teaching and learning, a lack of linkage between teaching and research activities, and a large discord between theory and practical training, that leads to a large number of graduates being unable to find a job, while skills shortages drive inflation to double-digit levels. According to the survey on graduate employment in 2009-2010 conducted by Center for Policy Studies and Analysis- University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi, among 3000 respondents, 26.2% are still unemployed with the majority unable to find a job. Among those employed, 61% said they lacked sufficient working skill, 42% lacked experience and 32% cited insecure professional expertise.[16]

Aside from degrees offered by foreign universities, qualifications from Vietnamese universities are not recognized worldwide.

Teaching methods delivered in the public system are teacher-oriented. Class discussions are uncommon, and students are expected to be studious and passively attentive in the classroom. This method is a manifestation of Confucian culture, and is a sharp contrast to American and British pedagogy, where interaction and debate are more prominent.[17]

Advanced and specialized high school students are generally expected to study additional courses, which can amount to a total of nine periods a day. Parents also enroll their children into extensive tutoring sessions, which is not to be confused with cram schools, because the tutoring sessions are taken regardless of any upcoming tests or exams. The average monthly salary of local Vietnamese public teachers is between 60USD and 100USD, so many supplement their income by moonlighting, working in the private sector or teaching in these tutoring sessions. Students who do not attend these sessions are always at a disadvantage, as materials appearing on tests and exams are often covered only in tutoring sessions.

Public schools are underfunded. Currently, only primary schools are subsidized by the government, to 50% of the total tuition cost. Enrollment rates may be high; however, primary education quality, particularly in poor areas, is below the required standard.[18] Moreover, the drop-out rate after fifth grade is also high, especially in rural and mountainous area since most students cannot afford to attend secondary school or university, due to poverty. Participatory Poverty Assessments (PPAs) found that for many poor households, child labor is considered much more valuable than school attendance. Regular school absenteeism also leads to poor academic performance. For poor families, the opportunity cost of sending their children to school is perceived to be high and the long-term benefit of education cannot outweigh the short-term economic losses.[19]

Private language centers offering English as a Second Language are in high demand in the larger cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Students flock to these schools to increase their employment opportunities. These classes are usually taught by foreign expatriates who are generally paid between 10 and 20 US dollars per hour, depending both on their qualifications, and on the quality of the school. Lower standards in some of the lower paying schools have resulted in a proliferation of low-quality teachers (known to the community as "backpacker teachers", who are typically travelers hired for teaching, hence "backpacker").

See also


  1. ^ UNESCO (2011) 'World Data on Education. 7th Ed.' Retrieved on 2012-03-03.
  2. ^ List of countries by GDP (real) growth rate
  3. ^
  4. ^ Vietnam's Ministry of Education and Training (2006). 'Vietnam Primary Education'. Retrieved on 2012-03-03.
  5. ^ Retrieved on 2012-03-04.
  6. ^ UNESCO (2011) 'World Data on Education. 7th Ed.' Retrieved on 2012-03-03.
  7. ^ Vietnam's Ministry of Education and Training (2006). 'Vietnam Primary Education'. Retrieved on 2012-03-03.
  8. ^ UNESCO (2011) 'World Data on Education. 7th Ed.' Retrieved on 2012-03-03.
  9. ^ Education in Vietnam, World Bank
  10. ^ Runckel C.,'The Education System in Vietnam'. Retrieved on 2012-02-29.
  11. ^ Pham Xuan Thanh, 'Vietnam assessment practice and roadmap for effective assessment system'. Retrieved on 2012-02-29.
  12. ^ "Khối H, N, S được miễn thi môn Ngữ văn." (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 2013-06-22. 
  13. ^ Sheridan, G. (2010),'Vietnam higher education sector analysis.', ADB Technical Assistance Consultants’ Report. Retrieved on 2012-02-20.
  14. ^ 'Vietnam's Ministry of Education and Training General Statistics.'Retrieved on 2012-3-1.
  15. ^ Sheridan, G. (2010),'Vietnam higher education sector analysis.', ADB Technical Assistance Consultants’ Report. Retrieved on 2012-02-20.
  16. ^ Retrieved on 2012-03-03
  17. ^ Napier, Nancy K.; Vuong, Quan Hoang. What we see, why we worry, why we hope: Vietnam going forward. Boise, ID: Boise State University CCI Press, October 2013. ISBN 978-0985530587.
  18. ^ ’Education for All in Vietnam: high enrollment, but problems of quality remain.’ (2010). Retrieved on 2012-03-04
  19. ^ ’Education for All in Vietnam: high enrollment, but problems of quality remain.’ (2010). Retrieved on 2012-03-04
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