Restoring faith in Vietnam’s education crucial to keeping students home: educationist

Vietnamese people spend up to US$4 billion a year on study abroad, a figure upsetting the country’s education ministry

Students conduct lab tests at International University under the Vietnam National University – Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The fact that an increasing number of Vietnamese students are going abroad for study is indicative of a long lost faith in the national education system, educationist Gian Tu Trung said in an exclusive interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Trung, who is president of the IRED Institute of Education, a non-profit and independent organization advocating for education reform in Vietnam, said he is both glad and worried to learn that Vietnamese people are spending $3-4 billion a year on foreign education.

The estimate was brought up by Vietnamese education minister Phung Xuan Nha last month during a meeting of the country’s legislature where he fielded questions from lawmakers.

“In my opinion, out of all the money people spend overseas, paying $3-4 billion for education is the smartest investment, for there is no better way to invest in your children's future than to invest in their education,” Trung told Tuoi Tre on Saturday.

“It’s not only about receiving good education. It’s also about experiencing a new civilization,” he added.

If everybody who wants to study abroad could afford the expenses associated with it, the estimated number acquired by the education minister could have easily been up to ten times higher, he said.

Gian Tu Trung, president of the IRED Institute of Education. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Gian Tu Trung, president of the IRED Institute of Education. Photo: Tuoi Tre

There are around 150,000 Vietnamese enrolled in overseas education programs at different levels, 90 percent of whom are self-financed, the official Voice of Vietnam (VOV) reported in January.

The U.S., Australia, the UK, Canada and Japan are among the top destinations for Vietnamese students studying abroad, according to the same source.

“The reason for this mass ‘exodus’ is simple: people have lost faith in the education system of Vietnam,” Trung pointed out.

“When people can’t find quality education domestically, it’s only common sense that they start looking overseas.”

The education expert thinks a solution to this problem is creating an environment where schools are not only a place to study and cram for exams, but also where students can live and experience a life filled with both happiness and struggles.

“Education is not preparation for life; it’s life itself,” he said, reciting the words of the late American education reformer John Dewey.

Vietnamese students study English at a school in Bagulo City, the Philippines. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Vietnamese students study English at a school in Bagulo City, the Philippines. Photo: Tuoi Tre

According to Trung, the ultimate goal of education should be to help students develop three traits: humanity, nationality, and personality.

Humanity encompasses universal and lasting values that differentiate mankind from other animals, plants or machines.

Nationality is not only a person’s civic responsibility but also their national identity and awareness of their origin, and their “cultural anchor” in an increasingly globalized world.

“Personality is what makes us independent and free: it’s defined by our values, way of life, outlook, virtue, faith and character. It’s what holds us back from doing the wrong thing and pushes us to do the right thing,” the scholar said.

If Vietnam can achieve this goal, parents and students will no longer have to go abroad seeking a better education, as everything they need will be available at home, Trung said.

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