Ethnic minorities, who make up about 14% of the population of Viet Nam, are some of the most vulnerable and poorest people in the country. They often live in remote mountainous areas or on lowland river deltas with very limited access to government services and education.

Education and training, which can lift many of them out of poverty over the long term, are a constant struggle. For many of these students, school is out of reach due to poor roads, long distances from populated areas, and language and cultural barriers. Ethnic minority children, particularly girls, are often forced to drop out of school or never get the chance to attend.

“It’s very hard for teachers to persuade children to go to school when many families cannot even afford food,”

Nguyen Van Doanh, principal of Rang Dong Secondary School

“It’s very hard for teachers to persuade children to go to school when many families cannot even afford food,” says Nguyen Van Doanh, principal of Rang Dong Secondary School, which is located in Rang Dong Commune, Tuan Giao District, Dien Bien Province.

Lo Van Phien, a 42-year-old farmer in the northwestern province of Dien Bien, experienced this firsthand. Earning a small income from farming and raising livestock, he struggled to keep his son Lo Van Kim in school when the family could not even afford regular meals. His boy had to walk for about 45 minutes to travel a daily distance of 2 kilometers over mountains on an empty stomach to get to school.

To address the challenges faced by students like Lo Van Kim, Viet Nam and ADB partnered with the $65 million Lower Secondary Education for the Most Disadvantaged Regions Project, which began in May 2008. It was designed to help the country’s poorest kids get into school and stay there until graduation.

Specifically, the project was designed to improve access, quality, relevance, planning, and management of lower secondary education in 17 provinces that are considered the poorest in Viet Nam.

The project financed the construction of 820 new lower secondary school classrooms, 61 libraries, 959 boarding rooms and dormitories, and 467 teacher housing units. In addition, more than 6,000 teacher training college students were provided with training on the new curriculum.

A total of 33,190 lower secondary school teachers in 17 provinces also completed the training. The project gave scholarships to 225 students. “The scholarships helped nourish the dream for many poor children,” says Nguyen Van Doanh.

In Dien Bien Province, 77 students received scholarships and 67 of them were able to finish high school. “The construction of new facilities, especially boarding rooms, increased the attendance rate,” says Nguyen Van Kien, deputy director of the Dien Bien Province Department of Education and Training.

In Dien Bien Province alone, the project also built 94 classrooms, 13 laboratories, 7 libraries, 214 boarding houses, 77 teachers’ offices, 20 kitchens, and 30 toilets. The project is credited with raising awareness in the local community of the importance of education. The support appears to be sustainable, with the provincial government issuing a decree that provides ongoing financial assistance to ethnic minority students.

During the school year 2017/18, 47 provinces provided 70,000 tons of rice for more than 500,000 eligible students.

During the school year 2017/18, 47 provinces provided 70,000 tons of rice for more than 500,000 eligible students.

Lo Van Kim, who struggled to stay in school and reach his dream of being a veterinarian, was awarded a scholarship in 2009 as part of the project. He wanted to help animals because at one point, he saw his family’s livestock die off due to a preventable disease and there was no veterinarian in the community to save them.

With the scholarship, Lo Van Kim was able to buy a bike for his daily ride to school and pay for his meals and school supplies. After finishing secondary school, Lo Van Kim was admitted to the Son La College of Agriculture and Forestry, about 200 kilometers from his home, to study veterinary medicine. After 2 years studying, with support from the money his father had saved from the project scholarship program and government assistance, he returned to his hometown and became the only veterinarian in his community.

Today, Lo Van Kim visits nearby areas to teach villagers about how to keep their livestock healthy. He opened the only veterinary store serving three nearby communes. Villagers who live far away also bring their cattle to Kim, seeking his advice on dealing with common diseases and how to protect cattle during the rainy and cold season. Lo Van Kim is the pride of his family, and he is helping others in his community improve their lives.

Results Chain

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  • $50 million loan approved on 10 December 2007
  • 868 classrooms, 259 separate male and female toilets, 61 libraries, 78 laboratories, 467 teacher housing units built
  • 219,272 teachers received in-service teacher training; 6,151 teacher trainees received pre-service teacher training
  • Scholarships awarded to 400 female and 225 ethnic minority students (SY 2009–2013)
  • Net enrollment rate in lower secondary in 103 disadvantaged districts in 2014 increased to 81.6%, from 76.4% in 2006
  • 7.9% increase in ethnic minority student enrollment
  • Female dropout rate decreased by 50%, female ethnic minority dropout rate decreased by 44%

Learn more about ADB’s work in Viet Nam.

This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.