Big challenges for Vietnam's education policy

The article introduces in its first part some considerations about

the connection between economic development, social change and education

for successful developing strategies. Then the present situation in Vietnam is

sketched. Against this background, challenges and  above all  opportunities

for educational basic orientations will be discussed as they are relevant for

a country like Vietnam being in a comprehensive transformation process

which is about to shake the very foundations of the whole of society. Finally

some of the most urgent actual reform tasks of the Vietnamese educational

sector are discussed.

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BIG CHALLENGES FOR VIETNAM'S EDUCATION POLICY Nguyen Thi Phuong Hoa Hanoi National University of Education Abstract.The article introduces in its first part some considerations about the connection between economic development, social change and education for successful developing strategies. Then the present situation in Vietnam is sketched. Against this background, challenges and  above all  opportunities for educational basic orientations will be discussed as they are relevant for a country like Vietnam being in a comprehensive transformation process which is about to shake the very foundations of the whole of society. Finally some of the most urgent actual reform tasks of the Vietnamese educational sector are discussed. 1. Introduction Since the beginning of the Doi Moi Policy, only two decades from now Vietnam is changing rapidly, causing a lot of asynchronicities between tradition and modernity. While the booming economy develops huge impacts on prosperity regarding ma- terial needs, cultural sub-systems like education are reaching limits which have to be addressed urgently. The following article introduces in the first part some con- siderations about the connection between economic development, social change and education for successful developing strategies. Then the present situation of Vietnam is sketched. Finally some of the most urgent actual reform tasks of the Vietnamese educational sector are discussed. 2. Content 2.1. The relationship of economic development, social change and education From the perspective of no-market-steered social systems like justice, public manage- ment and education, the fact is often overlooked that economy is the productive and 1 dynamic core of modern societies, and consequently those societies are dominated entirely by economic postulates. At the same time, there is also the fact that world- wide all dynamic economies are functioning according to market principles. They raise the chance of prosperity for wide population circles, for innovation of tech- nology and services and for a careful resource consumption to mention only three of the most attractive possibilites. Traditionally, the "hard" factors ground, capital and labour stand in the foreground. However, the more efficient and differentiated a national economy is, the more important infrastructural conditions become. Like a functioning judicial system, an efficient monetary system, a differentiated network by norms and standards etc. Not least, of course, the education and the training system has to be named. Beyond plausibility these crucial infrastructure factors, however, can be correlated mostly directly to economic performance. Which specific judicial system, for instance, leads with which changes to which overall economic effects? This entails the scientific classification of such "soft" factors enabling eco- nomic growth which has been investigated relatively limited up to now. The question araised from the relationship between economy and education, led until recently to completely opposite scientific answers between no measuring effects and unequivocal effect connections as it is expressed symptomatically in the title of a Working Paper of the US National Bureau of Economic Research:  Does schooling cause growth or the other way round? [1]. Why make most societies worldwide (governments, enterprises, private financiers, families, individuals) such considerable education strains, in the assumption that it is useful to them? A direct and general causal connection between education level (no matter how it is defined in detail) and economic efficiency does not seem to exist anyway, and yet the three PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) studies carried out since 2000 give inconsistent clues about this question [2]. The reasons for high educational investments are varied and are founded only partly economically. So a high education and training level enjoys in most cultures high social recognition (with major individual and social consequences also of eco- nomic nature). For the better educated and qualified their higher educational level pays off by higher incomes and more pleasant working conditions. Accordingly gov- ernments and private financiers support these efforts of their elites for legitimate considerations. On the other hand, they assume that a well educated and qualified population is also favorable for economic efficiency. Enterprises start out from the fact that the investments in the qualification of their employees directly matters to the enterprise's successes, at least, as long as the job market does not provide enough certified and cheap manpower. Meanwhile a wide spread acceptance is still not scientific proof and under the absence of a clear and countable correlation between education investments and economic growth is often considered as investments on suspicion, always in danger of being understood as consumptive costs and of being neglected behind other growth strategies (between the exploitation of cheap, slightly certified labour forces and 2 military expansion). Since in all modern societies the economic imperative influences all sustainable investments an empirically compelling correlation between education and economic performance, between education investments and economic growth could strengthen the strategic position of the educational sector in the competition with other infra-structural sub-systems. Moreover, only such an unequivocal link can motivate governments to invest in education for economic consideration. For some decades such correlations are fundamental in the theoretical ap- proaches of " Human Capital, thus in the assumption that education investments into the production factor "labour" lead to a higher economic achievement. All con- cerned investigations have proved a positive correlation: the closer the qualification is to the professional education, the more distinctive is this relation [3]. It is merely unclear, to what extent this general economical statement remains valid at the level of single states and enterprises which can supply themselves in well equipped and increasingly worldwide job markets. The necessity to invest in Human Capital mat- ters naturally also to educational levels below professional training on which the basic cultural skills reading, writing and calculating are provided [4]. 2.2. The Crucial Importance of Social Capital The question remains about the genuine economic effects of general education ex- ceeding by far merely the acquisition of basic skills. Hereby the addressed relation- ship between higher general education and economic efficiency corresponds directly with the Social Capital approaches which introduce the social integration achieved by education as an economically effective factor. The most influential definition of Social Capital comes from Robert Putnam: Social Capital consists of "features of social organisation such as trust, norms and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating co-ordinated actions" [5]. Since on this field, complicated model-based assumptions and measuring tasks are imperative, the scientific clarity of such statements is far lower than the area of Human Capital approaches. Never- theless, most Social Capital researchers suppose with good reasons and increasingly also with valid empiric evidences that general education is profitable by itself. In addition, it is obtaining and gaining importance for Knowledge - Economies and it can be seen as "basic commodity" of pluralistic societies [6]. From all that results at first that all societies which place importance on con- tinuous social progress (closely connected with market oriented growth economies) have to carry out an active, quality-oriented and investment-intensive education and training policy with high priority. While the developed countries of the west dispose of abilities of self-organization and more or less far going welfare state structures acquired during generations; this does not apply for developing countries. In rebuild- ing modern societies they can fall back only occasionally on traditional experiences. Instead, they see themselves in dramatic change processes which, first of all destroes the old, rural solidarity traditions, endanger the cohesion of the entire society. In 3 consequences the importance of modern Social Capital production via broad gen- eral schooling is even more important for developing countries than it is for the western countries. 2.3. The Vietnamese Situation To prepare for the UNESCO 2008 Education for All Global Monitoring Report the recently published country profile of Vietnam emphasizes - besides some heavy problem complexes - the considerable achievements of the country's education policy and presents a lot of convincing figures [7]. This appraisal stands in a long line of comparable surveys. They confirm in almost all cases and most impressively that Vietnam's preschool and school system plays a much higher league than its economic developing level supposes. The same picture shows university attendance and tertiary graduations, although to a reduced extent. From all of those it can be concluded that the Vietnamese mixture of economic liberalization in a political socialist framework obviously pursues a pretty successful strategy in the education sector, also in attempting to develop education systematically from the bottom up. So the contribution of the developed education system in Vietnam, despite all its weaknesses, to the social and economical transformation can hardly be over estimated. On the one hand all key indicators allow a light optimistic outlook on a basic and sustainable transformation of the traditionally agrarian stamped Viet- namese economy into a prospering industrial and partly also into a service economy. On the other hand, the demand for certified manpower will also increase which is the greatest challenge for the education and training system. Otherwise, it will be- come a major obstacle for the further development of the country's economy. So it is already recognizable, with concentration on the urban conurbations and here, above all, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, that sectored increasing demand for well qualified manpower is meeting scarce labour markets. Combined with the spread of less qualification of even university graduates this shortage threatens to become a structural growth brake. Against this background, the production of adequate social capital by ed- ucation standards in a multiple bridge-function between old and new orientations, the history and the future as well as the principles of traditional and modern school pedagogy. Schools, colleges and universities are key institutions in delivering social and cultural integration and in establishing higher levels of education and train- ing. If the system breaks of such ranges almost everything comes under a question: the traditional terms of social relations, the communication behavior, the world view, values and many other personality-settings will experience significant alter- ation. If this integration fails, a cultural uprooting and helplessness threaten to face the omnipresent new materials and cultural offers. However, at the same time, this "bridge" itself is under comprehensive re-construction and the whole scale of reform- management and educational effectiveness is asked to make it fit for this tremendous 4 job. The open questions following this perspective on the welfare of the society as a whole are more numerous than conclusive answers: What does a high level of knowledge, competence and moral stability mean concretely? Which learning aims and learning contents are asked? How should the education system learning patterns be established to enable the young generation to deal successfully and innovatively with the coming challenges, personally, socially and as the labour force of an up- coming developing country? In particular, the last aspect must deal with a high degree of insecurity, because Vietnam's future is uncertain and directly applicable experiences from other countries are rare. 2.4. Threats and Opportunities The systematic investigation of the general learning conditions provided by the changing environment of the Vietnamese people in general and of the younger gen- eration in particular imposes immense tasks on socialization and education research in Vietnam. Since the issues in question are predominantly arising from endogenous processes, research results and experiences from other countries may be helpful but the knowledge base and the problem solving strategies have to be developed in Viet- nam itself. The starting point is in any case the status quo of Vietnamese traditions, values and development aims. A consideration of these basic elements in their com- plete width would burst the frame of this article. Here I can indicate only some points which in my opinion which are vital to understanding the specific complexity of the current and outstanding Vietnamese educational reform, its opportunities and its risks. ∗ During the wars and during the following years when the entire country had to master the dreadful war results the Vietnamese people lived an extremely hard life under tremendous deprivation. Priority for all during these years was the fight for Vietnam's independence, to supply the suffering people with sufficient means to survive and immediately after the war to establish political integrity and stability. Consequently most Vietnamese at this time used to have a pretty simple personality ideal, stamped by traditional and war-conditioned virtues. In time of war and under the living conditions in a subsidized and planned economy opportunities and the need for scrutinizing the usual, discussing problems and looking for new and uncon- ventional solutions was strictly limited. Learning at school and outside had to occur almost completely after detailed guidelines delivered by central authorities. Every- body was taken care of and guided by the state and by the family. So for youngsters questions about the personal way of life or even of the choice of career were not a subject to be discused. Instead considerations about the future were barely directed upon basic or practical necessities and needs, they were determined to a large extent by prevailing settings of the social surroundings. Passiveness, conformity and lack of independence were broadly spread. However, modernizing societies in general and 5 market economies in particular requires from every person just the opposite: a high level of self-consciousness, an elaborated sense of self-responsibility and the ability to cope with a personal perspective of life. The individual must co-ordinate his own interests and needs pragmatically with those of his social environment, must act self-initiatively and has to realize long-term chances and risks. According to these new challenges many young Vietnamese now orientate less on professions which tra- ditionally promise high reputation. They strive for occupations promising a "better life" in which material welfare plays an important role. They must set themselves (partly with the help from their families) goals and have to exert themselves in order to reach them. Regarding the social integration and adaptability of the young peo- ple from to day's Vietnam one can ascertain much more dynamism than in earlier times. ∗ The value system, closely linked with the striving for a desired "personality profile" is under rapid change for the younger generation of today. The old ideal is determined by traditional morals and ethical values. It was formed and influenced quite substantially from Confucianism and Marxism. Diligence, politeness, respect- ful manners towards others, older people in particular, have been and still are the dominant primary virtues. Other virtues are not disregarded, but they are subor- dinated. A student with good school notes and well-behaved experiences and high appreciation of his classmates and his social environment. Today's young generation begins to act, instead, pragmatically, accordingly its orientation generally becomes more material. Indeed, industrious learning and good behavior still enjoy broad re- spect (nevertheless even these virtues are under change). However, gradually they are loosing their dominant role. Young people are interested increasingly in hedonistic values. Nowadays not only good learning, but talent and competence are becoming more important. A youngster behaving only in a conformist manner cannot deal suf- ficiently with modern life's requirements particularly in the great cities of Vietnam. Much more success promises the dynamic and wilful personality type. The changing value system leads to changes in motivation, objectives and, not least, the way of knowledge acquisition. Today individuals incline rather towards learning what they hold necessary for their own sake including plenty of issues not incorporated in the school curriculum. Increasingly, personal decisions are made on what students judge as important for themselves and at the same time what should be inferior. Under the influence of the living conditions in a spreading market-economy people become more pragmatic and managing future by common sense becomes the imperative. ∗ The traditional relationship between teachers and students in the Vietnamese society is based on the principle: Honor to the master, respect to the teaching. Consequently teachers take an indisputable authoritarian position in this relation- ship. They are not only honored for their activity as a knowledge mediator and educator, but also they are a part of a special trusting relationship in some way comparable with a parent's position. Students recognize in them estimable person- alities with exemplary function. By the spread of market-economically elements all 6 over Vietnamese society also the education system is affected and commercial fea- tures are emerging: private schools liable to costs, private tuition, cost sharing for apprenticeship etc. Yet this commercialization is about to modify the traditional role sharing between master-teacher and student to a supplier - customer relation- ship. The used ethical-morally stamped teacher-student relationship is broken by pragmatic, increasingly also material exchange patterns. This is new, particularly for older Vietnamese and completely different from their traditional thinking. ∗ Thanks to the rapid development in science and technology and, above all, the revolution of information technology, together with the opening of policy and the efforts of the political leaders towards economic and cultural integration into the international community, the global world for the people in Vietnam becomes more and more concrete. The increasing use of the Internet and other modern means of information technology give the younger generation more and up to now unknown opportunities to obtain knowledge on their own and to come into contact with foreign cultures. Now students can acquire increasing knowledge from different sources, also without mediation of their teachers. New forms and methods of learning and training are available and about to drive out Vietnam's traditional teaching-learning culture. One remarkable result of this development to be emphasized is for Vietnam to be confronted freshly with the phenomenon of a culture independent of nation, this mixture of different life settings, life-styles and fast changing fashions swapping across the electronically linked "global village". So for the first time in Vietnamese history young people share common elements of this "world-culture" with their peers in other countries. For the moment that is a phenomenon above all in the big cities, but gradually it will penetrate throughout the whole country. 3. Conclusion These social changes are at present directly affecting the education system in Vietnam and triggering (not only here) urgent and fundamental reform needs. The educational politicians in Vietnam are thus facing immense tasks. On the one hand the traditional system is already on its edge, quantitatively and qualitatively. On the other hand, one can but does not want simply to give up all customary values and procedures in order to deliver them to a "laissez faire, laissez aller". Society clever integration concepts and new, modern educational aims and strategies are in demand and, above all, the cultivation of institutional and individual ability to take responsibility is asked. This is not less than a tradition break deeply intervening in used mentalities which must be conducted at the same time gently However, also under considerable time, pressure and against strong centuries-old traditions. REFERENCES [1] Bils, M./Klenow, P.J., 1998. By the way the authors are coming to clearly positive conclusions. Working Paper, No. 6393, US National Bureau of Economic Research, USA. [2] 2003. Learning for Tomorrows World. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Paris. [3] 1998. Human capital investment, an international comparison. OECD, Centre 7 for Educational Research and Innovation, Paris. [4] October, 2002. Social and Human Capital in the Knowledge Society: Policy Im- plications. The Conference Paper, pp. 28-29, Brussels; 13-05-2008, comm/employment−social/knowledge−society/conf−en.htm. [5] Putnam, R., 1993.Making democracy work. University Press, pp. 167, Princeton. [6] Temple, J., 2000. Growth effects of education and social capital in the OECD countries. OECD Economic Department Working Papers, No. 263, Paris. [7] Nolven Henaff, Marie-France Lange, Tran Thi Kim Thuan, 2008. Education for All Monitoring Report 2008; 12-05-2008 , Viet Nam Country Case Study 2007, 8

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