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Great expectations for new education reforms

Update: October, 28/2013 - 09:15

Vietnam News Agency reporters spoke to experts about both the prospects and challenges of a resolution on the fundamental and comprehensive reform of education and training adopted by the Communist Party of Viet Nam's Central Committee this month.

Education and Training Minister Pham Vu Luan

Pham Vu Luan

The resolution covers a wide range of renovations relating to all education activities. The key measures cover education management, developing teaching staff and renovating testing and assessment methods.

Renovation of testing and assessments is considered a breakthrough measure because it will control and change all other educational activities. It will not be costly, but is expected to help change both teaching and learning methods for teachers and students.

Previous education renovation programmes failed to eradicate shortcomings in creating a close link between high schools and education universities which help produce different generations of teachers.

Therefore, this education reform master plan will help change the curriculum of education universities in line with renovation at high schools. Teaching methods and forms of assessments at education universities will also be renovated.

Many teachers, education managers and lecturers have been mobilised to become directly involved in the construction of this master plan.

Among the issues to be renovated, renewing high school curricula and textbooks seems to get the most attention from the public. After deeply analysing and assessing problems in the education and training sector, the Communist Party of Viet Nam Central Committee decided to change curriculum design, textbook content and teaching methods towards the target of developing learners' ability and qualifications from the current passive method of "the teacher speaks and students take notes".

Also, the current curriculum for high school education includes such subjects as maths, physics, chemistry, literature, history and geography, which are designed following the model of concentric circles, causing overlapping and overload for students as they have to repetitively study the same subjects throughout their schooling.

Under the master plan, in addition to a few compulsory subjects, high school students would be able to choose what they want to learn depending on their hobbies, abilities or career aspirations. Students will also learn skills applicable to real life, including teamwork, independent study and presentation. Revamped exams would test their ability to apply knowledge rather than simply memorise facts.

The renovation and new design of education curricula and textbooks is based on assessments of the current education situation and lessons learned from world education achievements, thanks to assistance from both domestic and international experts and organisations.

Vice Chairman of the Viet Nam Learning Promotion Association Pham Tat Dong

Pham Tat Dong

It could be admitted that this master plan was carefully built and presented a progressive approach to education as it touches on many urgent issues such as renovations of curricula, textbook and methods of teaching, testing and assessments.

Education renovation is needed to help train human resources to meet socio-economic development as well as the country's industrialisation and modernisation demands.

However, it is better to renovate education and training resolutely, not comprehensively. It is essential to renovate the whole national education system in which school, family and society education must fit each other in terms of both content and method to help educate learners effectively. It therefore requires the whole of society to join hands with the education and training sector to carry out the renovations.

During this renovation, developing the teaching staff is one among key parts as they are entrusted to build qualified human resources. It is essential to reform the whole system of education universities, from curriculum and teaching methods right through to on-the-job training.

It's now their duties to not only impart knowledge to students but also develop their capacity, skills and personality, to help them apply new-found knowledge to real life situations.

More preferential policies, particularly salary incentives, are needed to encourage teachers to stick with their career.

For long-term development, we should target free education for all to increase participation, particularly poor people and those in remote and mountainous areas. Sweden serves as a good example to follow where everyone is offered opportunities to pursue education.

Professor Dinh Quang Bao from the Steering Committee on renovating the education curricula and textbooks after 2015

Dinh Quang Bao

The renovation requires a new design of curricula and textbooks based on different logic.

We used to compile textbooks based on the consensual logic of each subject. But now we will compile textbooks based on developing the logic of students as a primary factor.

The new curricula will not focus on the amount of knowledge but on students' ability to apply knowledge, skills, attitudes, feelings and purposes in dealing with real situations in their daily lives.

Therefore, the curricula will only choose some basic and practical education contents instead of focusing too much on academic knowledge as is the case at present.

To achieve this target, we need to first change the approach of education programme designers and textbook compilers to help build curricula and textbooks meeting the demands of the master plan.

However, it is not an easy task as they are too familiar with "old" thinking of compiling books and building curricula based of the logic of a subject, not on the logic of boosting students' capacity development. We need to learn from other countries in dealing with this issue.

Renovated textbooks will focus on developing a learner's capacity, so textbook compilers must act as not only educationalists, but also as psychologists and geneticists.

The first revamped textbooks are expected to be used on a trial basis by primary students during the 2016-17 school year, with renewed textbooks for all education levels are expected to be ready by 2021.

Nguyen Phuong Chi, teacher from Lang Thuong Primary School in Dong Da District

The project will reduce the workload for students as it will cut the number of subjects in the curriculum. However, it may create a lot of difficulties for teachers when organising a studying period.

A curriculum with practice periods is only suitable for small groups of students, but at present, the number of students in each class is excessive and the classrooms are too small.

The teacher must try to suitably arrange the tables and students, but it's always the that not every student is able to practice effectively.

Furthermore, each period is too short - only 40 minutes - and I think it is not enough time for teachers to cover the subject matter, especially when some complex issues will be added to the curriculum, such as climate change, living skills, population and reproductive health. We need around 60 minutes for each period to teach these topics effectively.

Moreover, most schools in the country lack essential teaching aids which are especially important with the new curriculum of the project.

To help the project be effective, the education sector should equip schools with pictures, posters, small boards and other teaching aids before conducting the project. — VNS

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