Viet Nam Schools in a Class of Their Own

Article | 15 December 2016

Viet Nam is an education success story. The latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), published earlier this month, confirm that secondary schools in the southeast Asian country are in many ways in a class of their own.

Viet Nam is an education success story. The latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), published earlier this month, confirm that secondary schools in the southeast Asian country are in many ways in a class of their own.

Viet Nam came 8th out of 72 countries in science and performed around average in reading and maths. As a low-income country its educational achievements are on a par with many countries with far higher per capita GDP. Viet Nam first subjected itself to PISA testing in 2012 and came 17th in maths, 8th in science and 19th in reading, higher than some developed countries in all subjects.

The influential PISA study, organized every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), provides education assessments based on international standards for 15-year-olds in maths, reading and science.

There has been much debate about what’s behind this impressive academic record. Financial commitment has obviously been important; more than 20% of government expenditure is targeted for education, a larger proportion than any other OECD country. But what other factors are at play here?

"Viet Nam needs to focus on improving employability of young people to continue growing inclusively"

"Over many years Viet Nam has expanded enrolment at all education levels and has made big strides in enforcing minimum quality standards," said Ayako Inagaki, a Director in the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Southeast Asia Department. "Both the government and parents believe that education is critical. This commitment is evident in the high degree of professionalism and discipline in schools where teacher absenteeism is low and student attendance high."

Despite these gains, many challenges remain. The positive PISA results are only based on those who are attending school. Around 10% of lower secondary-aged youth do not go to school. Domestic migrant youth and youth with disabilities also face serious obstacles in accessing education. The government has made it a priority to reduce the drop-out rate and get all young people into education.

ADB is working with the Government of Viet Nam to establish national education standards and accreditation for schools, improve the quality of teachers and instructional materials.

The Manila-based lender recently approved a $100 million loan to help strengthen the quality and management of secondary education, as well as access to it. The loan will also help address another issue: equipping young people with the necessary skills and knowledge to meet current and future labor market demands.

While Viet Nam has enjoyed impressive growth and progress over recent years, it needs to move on from an economy based on low-skilled work to high-value, knowledge-based industries to improve competitiveness and productivity.

"Viet Nam needs to focus on improving employability of young people to continue growing inclusively," said Eiko Izawa, a Senior Education Specialist in ADB’s Southeast Asia Department. "This latest loan program will continue ADB’s commitment to help improve secondary education aligned to labor market needs for all young people in Viet Nam."