Foreign educators respond to Vietnam’s plan to eliminate the high school graduation exam

Responding to a request from Tuoi Tre News, a number of educators have commented on a plan to comprehensively transform Vietnam’s national education system

Students from Nguyen Du High School in Ho CHi minh City's District 10 learn efficient studying methods with an instructor from Ho Chi Minh City University of Pedagogy

Responding to a request from Tuoi Tre News, a number of educators have commented on a plan to comprehensively transform Vietnam’s national education system.

Included in the plan initiated by the Ministry of Education and Training is a call to eliminate the annual nationwide high school exam as a prerequisite for graduation.

The academic and social performance of high school students would instead be evaluated by students’ immediate educators, who will decide whether or not the students are qualified for graduation, according to the draft education program.

The plan’s main aim is to put a larger focus on career orientation for 11th and 12th graders.

A good idea

In my opinion, eliminating the graduate exam is a good idea.  Thanks to studies and research done in countries across Europe and North America, it is proven that not all students can adequately show the full limit of their knowledge and skills through standardized testing.  It is quite possible for a student to be extremely intelligent and capable of critical thought, yet score less than their true capabilities due to factors such as anxiety over the process of taking the test.  We don’t force all students to wear the same size clothing or the same size shoes, so why should we attempt to do the same with student’s minds and knowledge?

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Kit Davidson

A change in curriculum isn’t the worst thing. Sometimes the education system here seems too rigid, and asking every student across the entire country to learn the exact same required information is asking for a wild array of success rates. That’s just the way it is - students in some areas are not going to be capable of learning the material and curriculum in ways that others are.  Students in more affluent neighborhoods in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City should be held to a much more rigorous curriculum than students in a government sponsored school in an ethnic village in the middle of the Truong Son Mountains.  Being more flexible with curriculum on a provincial level would be a great way to change the curriculum for the better. 

The real issue with creating a flexible curriculum is the amount of work it will take both teachers and administrators in each province.  For many teachers in Vietnam, the pay is quite low, and there is little time, incentive, and opportunity to teach above and beyond what the curriculum requires, so asking teachers and administrators to take on this extra work for the same pay might be difficult. 

The biggest factor that benefits students in the USA, I think, is giving teachers the freedom to excel. Teachers will go to great lengths to help engage their students in the classroom.  This doesn’t mean that teachers are given approval to say and teach whatever they want, but instead they are allowed to challenge students with exercises and material that are relevant to the course, oftentimes more difficult than what is usually given.  It is a good way to let the students challenge themselves to be even better at what they know.

Career training is also a fantastic idea, especially in Vietnam. Though it exists right now, it needs to be reshaped to better help more students.  Right now Vietnam’s education system has certain “pipelines” for a number of industries such as architecture, banking, engineering, Information Technology (IT), etc, but outside of these avenues there is very little infrastructure.  The education system does offer avenues for career training and advanced preparation, but in the end it is a rigid system that only funnels students into one of the preexisting industries.  There is no support or suggestions for industries outside the “recommended” fields.  Rather than discussing the implementation of career training, the discussion should be on how to alter the current career training and better prepare students for ALL possible industries, rather than just a certain few fields that are more strongly promoted than others.

Kit Davidson, American, teacher in Da Nang

Stakeholders should be involved

Any education and examination system must always be fit for its purpose and support the students in achieving a desire for lifelong learning and educational success. Every government around the world reviews the impact of its educational policies, curricula and teaching training programmes to ensure it meets the needs of the students it serves and the demands of the global economy. Exams will tell you a certain amount about a student’s knowledge and understanding.

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Oliver William Dowden

In my experience when involved in reforming and implementing new curricula, success can be attributed to the fact that all stakeholders have been involved in the process of development, implementation, and training. To enable teachers to work within the new framework, they must be confident, skilled, and trained to carry out the expectations successfully. Vietnam has many dedicated, inspirational, and talented teachers.  With the right investment in infrastructure and training, a transformation in curriculum can be successful.

Having the perspective of the teachers, heads of schools, training specialists, the wider community, and the government means everyone has the opportunity to understand and contribute to the transformation. The UK has done this several times.

Many students leave high school uncertain of where their future lies. Supporting students during their high school years to make them aware of their talents, potential, and career opportunities are a very important part of education. For some, a clear focus on career orientation is very helpful while others might still be unsure of what they want to do with their future.

Oliver William Dowden, English, Director of SOL Education

Support the teachers

There is a lot of research on how stressful high-stakes summative tests can be for students. Handling huge amounts of stress at such a young age is difficult, but it all depends on what they are being tested on and how the teachers have prepared their students for it. A well-trained teacher with solid knowledge of their subject can support a student through these difficult times. If the high school graduation exam is removed in 2020, that will give the educational agencies time to re-train teachers in the new approaches to pedagogy. Assessing a student over multiple years of their high school education is reflective of what will happen in a real work environment.

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Stephen Isaacs

The British system of education emphasizes that the student should be at the centre of any teaching. For me, this means I have to plan lessons based on all levels and abilities to support all students in attaining their maximum potential. However, that approach to pedagogy has come over several decades of educational thinking, not overnight change.

I think there are passionate teachers in every part of Vietnam, and passionate students with a deep belief in the value of learning. Every teacher worldwide would like more facilities, more time with their students, and more training support. Ultimately it will come down to the teacher and their ability to teach a given curriculum. Support should also come from the Ministry of Education and Training to implement a carefully structured training programme, that will support the teachers who will take this idea through to 2020.

Stephen Isaacs, British, teacher at Renaissance International School Saigon

Probably forget everything

In my opinion, eliminating the nationwide test is a good thing because the university course itself will be able to "separate the sheep from the goats" and select the students who are really qualified for graduation. Those who aren't qualified will certainly drop out of college (or drop out of that specific major) along the way.

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Rafael Ribeiro

In Brazil, we have a quite similar system of examinations to the current Vietnamese system. There's a mandatory examination called "Vestibular" and you must pass this examination in order to get into college. This examination basically has 2 stages: the first one is more general – a test that includes all the subjects studied in high school. The second stage is more specific – a test on 2 subjects that are related to a major of your choice. For example: if you want to study Medicine in college, you will have to take chemistry and a biology test. If you want to study law, then you'll take a history and a Portuguese test. Our students have to study very hard to take the "Vestibular" examination (because it's very difficult), but many forget everything they studied once they pass the exam.

I also totally agree with this new plan and its career orientation goals. In my opinion, career orientation is extremely important! I can tell you that, based on my own experience, though I have a degree in Advertising, when I think back on my education I believe I should have chosen to study Language Arts or Music – two fields which have more to do with my personality. I was too young and inexperienced to choose the right major, and now I have to try to recover lost ground.

Rafael Ribeiro, Brazilian, English teacher

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