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Types of educational establishments

Regarding ownership, as prescribed in Article 44 of Vietnam’s Education Law, there are four types of educational establishments:

    Public education establishments: established and monitored by the State. The State also nominates their administrators and decides staff quota. The State invests in infrastructure and allocates funding for their regular spending tasks.
    Semi-public educational establishments: set up by the State on the basis of mobilizing organizations and individuals in the society to jointly invest in infrastructure.
    People-founded educational establishments: Social or economic organizations apply for permission from the State to set up an institution with non-State budget capital.
    Private educational establishments: Individuals or groups of individuals apply for permission from the State to set up and invest in the institution by themselves.

The semi-public, people-founded and private educational establishments are referred collectively to as non-public educational establishments.[3]
School grades

The school year is divided into two semesters. The first semester begins in late August and ends some time before Tết, while the second one begins right after the first one and lasts until June.
Level/Grade     Typical age
Pre-school playgroup     3-4
Kindergarten     4-6
Primary school
First grade     6-7
Second grade     7-8
Third grade     8-9
Fourth grade     9-10
Fifth grade     10-11
Secondary school
Sixth grade     11–12
Seventh grade     12-13
Eighth grade     13–14
Ninth grade     14-15
High school
Tenth grade     15–16
Eleventh grade     16–17
Twelfth grade     17–18
Post-secondary education
Tertiary education (College or University)     Ages vary (usually four years,
referred to as Freshman,
Sophomore, Junior and
Senior years)
Academic grading
Main article: Academic grading in Vietnam
Pre-primary education

Public kindergartens usually admit children ranging from 18 months to 5 years of age. Sometimes, four- or five-year-old children are taught the alphabet and basic arithmetic. This level of education is not compulsory and tends to be popular in major cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hai Phong, Can Tho and Vung Tau.
Primary education

Children normally start primary education at the age of six. Education at this level lasts for 5 years and is compulsory for all children.The country's literacy rate is over 90%.[4]

According to the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey 2006 of Vietnam’s General Statistics Office, 96% of six to 11-year-old children enrolled in primary school. However, there was still a significant disparity in the primary education completion rate among different ethnicity. While primary completion rate for Kinh students was 86%, the rate for ethnic minority children was only 61%.[5]

In school year 2009-2010, Vietnam had 15,172 primary schools and 611 combined primary and lower secondary schools. The total enrollment was 7.02 million pupils, of whom 46% were girls.[6]

The renovated primary education curriculum in Vietnam is divided into two phases as follows:

    Phase 1 includes Grades 1, 2 and 3 with 6 subjects: Vietnamese Language, Mathematics, Morality, Nature and Society, Arts and Physical Education.
    Phase 2 includes Grades 4 and 5 with 9 subjects: Vietnamese Language, Mathematics, Morality, Science, History, Geography, Basic Techniques, Music, Arts and Physical Education.[7]

Intermediate/ Lower secondary education

Lower secondary school (Vietnamese: trung học cơ sở) or Junior high school includes sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth grade. Until its abolition in 2006, students had to pass the Intermediate Graduation Examination (IGE) presented by the local Department of Education and Training to graduate. This educational level is homogeneous throughout most of the country, except in very remote provinces, which expect to popularize and standardize middle education within the next few years. Intermediate education is not compulsory in Vietnam.

The Lower Secondary Education’s weekly schedule includes the following subjects and activities: Vietnamese Language, Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, History, Geography, Civics, Foreign Language, Physical Education, Technology, Art, Music, Optional Subjects, Class Activities and School Activities, Vocational-oriented activities (3 periods per month in Grade 9) and Extra-curricular activities (4 periods per month in all grades).

The Technology subject aims to show the link between theory and practice. It includes three parts: home economics (in Grade 6), agriculture-forestry and aquaculture (in Grade 7), Industry (in Grade 8) and optional modules (in Grade 9).[8]
Secondary education

Secondary education (Vietnamese: trung học phổ thông) consists of grades ten through twelve. The IGE is a prerequisite entrance examination for secondary schooling. The IGE score determines the schools at which students are able to enroll. The higher the score, the more prestigious the school.

All subjects are compulsory for students.

    Vietnamese Literature
    Mathematics (consisting of separate subjects Algebra (year 10 only), Calculus (year 11 and 12 only) and Geometry (both year 10, 11 and 12))
    Civics (generally consists of economics, philosophy, politics, law and ethics)
    Foreign language (mostly English; Chinese, French and Russian are taught at some specialized schools)
    Technology (consists of Agriculture/Horticulture, Mechanics, Electronics, Design, etc.)
    Information Technology (Recently introduced, yet to be implemented in poorer regions. Students study basic programming in languages such as Visual FoxPro, Visual Basic and Pascal)
    Physical Education

Advanced classes consists of either:

    Natural sciences: Students follow an advanced curriculum (and different textbooks) in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.
    Social sciences: Students follow an advanced curriculum (and different textbooks) in literature, history, geography and foreign language.

At the start of secondary school, students can enroll in Specialist Classes if they pass the class entrance exam, which usually consists of a Mathematics exam, a Literature exam, and an exam of the subject that the student wants to specialize in. The specialised subject can be any of the subjects listed above, except Technology, Physical Education and Civics. Students enrolled in these programs have a heavier workload than regular secondary school students. The workload varies from school to school, but grade 11 students are generally expected to study grade 12 courses concurrently. Other courses include university-level courses. Some schools go as far as requiring their students to finish secondary school by the end of grade 10.

Only prestigious schools offer these classes, and they have yet to be standardized.
Leaving Examination

All students in Vietnam are required to take the national Leaving Examination at the end of grade 12 to get a diploma. The Leaving Examination is administered by the Ministry of Education and Training. Students still have to pass their regular end-of-term examinations, along with passing the Leaving Examination.

The Leaving Examination includes six subjects: mathematics, Vietnamese literature, foreign language, and three alternating subjects determined by the Ministry of Education and Training, each with a maximum value of 10 points. In order to graduate, a student needs to achieve at least a total score of 30 points. A score below this will also disqualify a student from taking part in the University Entrance Examination.[9] Nearly 1 million students sit for the Leaving Examination in late May or early June every year.[10]
Higher education

University entrance is based on the scores achieved in the entrance examination. High school graduates need high scores to be admitted to universities. Securing a place in a public university is considered a major step towards a successful career, especially for those from rural areas or disadvantaged families. The pressure on the candidates therefore remains very high, despite the measures taken to reduce the importance of these exams. In 2004, it was estimated that nearly one million students took the exam, but on average, only 20% passed.

Normally, candidates take three exams for the fixed group of subjects they choose. There are 4 fixed groups of subjects:

    Group A: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry
    Group B: Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry
    Group C: Literature, History, Geography
    Group D: Literature, Foreign Language, Mathematics

Besides these, there are also groups H, M, N, R, T and V.

In 2007, Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training started to use multiple choice exam format for several subjects during the university entrance examination. These subjects include: Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Foreign Language. Each multiple choice exam lasts 90 minutes. The foreign language exam consists of 80 multiple choice questions; meanwhile, the Physics, Chemistry, Biology exam has 50 questions. Math, Literature, History and Geography exams still use composition format.
Types of Higher Education Institutions
See also: List of universities in Vietnam

Vietnamese Government decree (decree 43/2000/ND-CP, dated August 30, 2000) identified three types of higher education institutions:

    "Đại học" (University), which is a multidisciplinary institution offering various fields of study and which has research capacities. Five major multidisciplinary universities in Vietnam are Vietnam National University, Hanoi; Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City; Huế University; University of Da Nang; and Thai Nguyen University.
    "trường Đại học" (Senior college), which is more narrowly focused in its curriculum, sometimes on a single study area.
    "Học viện" (Institute), which is also narrowly focused in terms of study area, but which may also have a specialized research capacity.[11]

In addition, there are junior college or community colleges, professional secondary schools, and vocational schools which offer degrees or certificates, after courses lasting from a few months to two years.

In the school year 2010-2011,Vietnam had a total of 163 universities (including senior colleges and institutes) and 223 junior colleges, in which 50 senior colleges and 30 junior colleges are non-public.[12]

The presence of foreign universities is increasing. Universities such as RMIT and University of Hawaii offer degrees in fields such as business, English as a Second Language and Information Technology. Running a foreign education system in Vietnam is challenging. Quality control and affordability are key issues, as well as red tape.
Higher education qualifications

    Associate Degree (Vietnamese: Cao đẳng): a three year program delivered by junior colleges (including teachers colleges and others) and also by some universities as additional training programs in Vietnam.
    Bachelor Degree (Vietnamese: Cử nhân): a four to six year program in which six years for students studying medical and dental sciences; five years for students of industrial engineering and four years for the majority of other undergraduate degree in Vietnam such as Social Sciences. Graduates received degree with a title corresponding to their field of study such as bachelor (cử nhân), engineer (kỹ sư), medical doctor (bác sĩ) or lawyer (luật sư) etc.… [13]

Most of Vietnam's universities also offer master's (2 years) and Doctor of Philosophy (4 years) degrees.
Teaching quality issues

The entire higher education system is facing several crises, such as outdated curricula, a lecturer-centered method of teaching and learning, a lack of linkage between teaching and research activities, and a large discord between theory and practical training, that leads to a large number of graduates being unable to find a job, while skills shortages drive inflation to double-digit levels. According to the survey on graduate employment in 2009-2010 conducted by Center for Policy Studies and Analysis- University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi, among 3000 respondents, 26.2% are still unemployed with the majority unable to find a job. Among those employed, 61% said they lacked sufficient working skill, 42% lacked experience and 32% cited insecure professional expertise.[14]

Aside from degrees offered by foreign universities, qualifications from Vietnamese universities are not recognized worldwide.

Teaching methods delivered in the public system are teacher-oriented. Class discussions are uncommon, and students are expected to be studious and passively attentive in the classroom. This method is a manifestation of Confucian culture, and is a sharp contrast to American and British pedagogy, where interaction and debate are more prominent.

Advanced and specialized high school students are generally expected to study additional courses, which can amount to a total of nine periods a day. Parents also enroll their children into extensive tutoring sessions, which is not to be confused with cram schools, because the tutoring sessions are taken regardless of any upcoming tests or exams. The average monthly salary of local Vietnamese public teachers is between 60USD and 100USD, so many supplement their income by moonlighting, working in the private sector or teaching in these tutoring sessions. Students who do not attend these sessions are always at a disadvantage, as materials appearing on tests and exams are often covered only in tutoring sessions.

Public schools are underfunded. Currently, only primary schools are subsidized by the government, to 50% of the total tuition cost. Enrollment rates may be high; however, primary education quality, particularly in poor areas, is below the required standard.[15] Moreover, the drop-out rate after fifth grade is also high, especially in rural and mountainous area since most students cannot afford to attend secondary school or university, due to poverty. Participatory Poverty Assessments (PPAs) found that for many poor households, child labor is considered much more valuable than school attendance. Regular school absenteeism also leads to poor academic performance. For poor families, the opportunity cost of sending their children to school is perceived to be high and the long-term benefit of education cannot outweigh the short-term economic losses.[16]

Private language centers offering English as a Second Language are in high demand in the larger cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Students flock to these schools to increase their employment opportunities. These classes are usually taught by foreign expatriates who are generally paid between 10 and 20 US dollars per hour, depending both on their qualifications, and on the quality of the school. Lower standards in some of the lower paying schools have resulted in a proliferation of low-quality teachers (known to the local community as "backpacker teachers").