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​Grass is often greener on the other side

Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 18:56 GMT+7
​Grass is often greener on the other side
Vietnamese students are seen in this photo illustration. Tuoi Tre

Hardly a week goes by without a Vietnamese parent telling me if they can afford it they’ll send their children to be educated abroad and the U.S. is the first country they usually mention.

For many Vietnamese families it’s a status symbol to send their children abroad to study, thus assuring a higher level of technical formation. In the U.S. alone there are over 20,000 Vietnamese students, most enrolled at undergraduate level.

Now take a look at this chart produced by the World Bank indicating TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) scores by country based on GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Most of the data plotted follows the trend we would expect - i.e. the richest countries produce the highest scoring students, but there is one exception:

Vietnam stands alone on the left side as a low-GDP country whose students score high on the TIMSS tests.

How can that be?

There have been many studies similar to the World Bank one above conducted by organizations worldwide and they all lead to a similar result where Vietnam is concerned, to such degree that a common term has surfaced for this phenomenon:

“The Vietnam effect”.

Simply put, Vietnamese students study harder, persevere more, work closely with their teachers, and their parents are heavily involved in their studies and school life in general. Institutions have less money to spend on computers but plenty of access to the internet, so resources are leveraged and shared among students.

Does that surprise you? It doesn’t surprise me in the least - it’s a reflection of what I see around me every day in Vietnam: a lot of high energy, ambitious, and forward-thinking people working together to get ahead in the world.

Now take a look at the right-hand side of the chart and you’ll see Vietnam is just about on a par with Canada and the U.S., both of which have much bigger wallets. OK, Vietnam isn’t perfect either - there’s lots of room for improvement all over the board, but this TIMSS fact speaks for itself.

Why then would affluent Vietnamese parents rush to have their children educated abroad aside from the obvious status that an overseas education generates?

I confess it mystifies me, and for different reasons than those TIMSS scores, which only address what’s going on in school and at the evening homework desk.

I define children’s education as the acquisition of knowledge that leads to a productive day-to-day role in society going forward, there is more to it than obtaining hard technical skills.

That knowledge must be applied in a pragmatic way in the workplace in order to achieve success. Soft skills such as leadership, communication, teamwork, punctuality, time management, desire and ambition to succeed, perseverance, organization skills, and decision-making are just a few of those needed that are acquired and honed in daily life, not in the classroom as part of the technical curriculum.

The gap in technical skills is shrinking rapidly in Vietnam as locals take a larger stake in infrastructure and business development. I recently witnessed many large projects in Da Nang in preparation for the APEC summit, led by locals that went off without a hitch.  Complex construction projects, bridges, tunnels, internet and security upgrades, and training programs for local service providers were completed on time and according to specification.  Impressive.

Technical skills aside for a moment: What about the rest of a students’ daily life in the U.S. compared to Vietnam? The students’ life has many components outside of the classroom:  social activities, sports, clubs, events, shopping, dining, trips, home life, and pastimes. 

Unless a foreign student goes straight home without interacting with anyone there is a lot of learning in social situations that form part of the experience.

If I were a Vietnamese parent considering sending my child abroad to study I’d be just as concerned about what goes on outside the classroom as what happens inside it.

Youths absorb what transpires around them and that forms much of their outlook on life and is the basis for their social and professional values and ethics when they later join the professional ranks.

Recently a number of mass shootings in the U.S. have dominated the media headlines yet again, an extraordinary number of male public figures have been accused of groping and molesting women, and there is a growing anti-immigration trend stretching across the country that is causing a lot of violence.

African-American athletes have been protesting violence used by police forces against their race by for over a year by refusing to stand for the national anthem at professional sporting events and it’s become a larger-than-life social issue. One such professional athlete has been blacklisted and blocked by team owners from doing this job although his track record is excellent and his competence had never before been questioned. 

Freedom of speech is real, but in that politically correct society people are guarded about what they say, so is that freedom real?  I think not…..

Any idea what the largest daily traffic jams are in many areas in the U.S.? 

The jams are caused by parents dropping off and picking up their children from school. The reason why? It’s come to the point where it’s unsafe for children to walk the streets or take public transportation, so great is the fear of kidnapping and molestation.  And that’s not in low-income urban areas, it’s all over the demographic map.

Gun ownership has increased at a dramatic rate in recent years in the U.S. and it leads the world in the number of citizens it has locked up in jails.

Need I go on? 

The strangest part of all this is when I mention the above factors to parents who want to send their kids to the U.S. for their higher education, most have no idea what I’m talking about.

Don’t let me give you the wrong message, it’s a great country with many things going for it, but my point is this:

For a family considering sending a young student abroad for the first time the U.S. may not be the best choice.  Interested parents should spend time studying all the social factors involved, not just what transpires in the classroom.

Take a look at the less tangible factors that create a quality overall lifestyle: less stress, more fresh air and outdoor activities, time to enjoy life, pleasant social atmosphere, affordable quality food, a peaceful and pleasant vibe in the air, sharing and caring personal relationships, a sense of community, and personal safety in day-to-day life.

It’s a slam dunk to me that Vietnam outpaces many of the other countries on the above graph for the less tangible criteria that make up a quality lifestyle. Put that together with the TIMSS scores, it looks like Vietnam is a very good bet for children growing into adulthood going forward. 

Finally, every parent who sends their child to school in Vietnam instead of abroad is helping to improve the domestic education system, a strategic investment that will help Vietnam catch up to other countries who have had a head start.

Remember the old saying: “The grass often seems greener on the other side of the fence” and make careful choices…..

Rick Ellis / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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