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Universities not the only way up

Update: July, 30/2014 - 10:04

by Thu Huong

Every summer, when the results of university entrance exam come out, many newspaper stories are published about students who are top-scorers across the country. Most portray students as hard-working, studious, smart and, generally, from low-income families. They are often considered heroes or heroines by their families, communes, villages and communities. And they symbolise the efforts made to lift them, and their relatives, out of poverty.

The students are often too poor to attend any extra-classes, which make their achievements more illustrious and more newsworthy. While everyone should applaud the students for their admirable efforts, putting too much emphasis on success generates some difficult questions.

If other students look up to them as models, of course it's great. However, in a way, it contributes to society's attitude that getting into university is the only way to succeed. For those who fail, their lives are over.

It should be noted that about 1.3 million high school students take part in the annual university entrance exams and only about 300,000 of them pass. What's about the hundreds of thousands who fail? Should we demand more stories about those who fail the exam but succeed in life or about those who quit university education at some level and do something else unconventional?

"I personally think that it's not about you scoring top in an entrance exam or get even into Harvard. It's about what you do for the rest of your life," said Tran Nguyen Le Van, 29. He is the founder of a website, vexere.com, that passengers can use to book bus tickets online and receive tickets via SMS. His business also arranges online tickets via mobile phones and email.

Van dropped out of his MBA at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona in the United States. His story has caught the attention of many newspapers and he believes more coverage should be given to the youngsters who can be role-models in the start-up community.

Getting into university, even with honours, is just the beginning. "We applaud them and their efforts and obviously that can give them motivation to do better in life. However, success requires more than just scores," Van said.

Van once told a newspaper that his inspiration also came from among the world's most famous drop-outs, such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook or Bill Gates who also dropped out of Harvard University.

Nguyen Hoang Trung, 23-year-old, founder of Lozi.vn, a website for sharing food locations, dropped out of the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology after two years. He also believes that making top-scoring students "stars" can make others feel they have no other choice but to study, study, study.

"Too many people ask me about why I dropped out and what my parents said," Trung said. "I think they should focus on our work and what we do. Society is changing and while we put values on scores and degrees, it's also time to think differently. There are lots of things to learn outside schools."

Alarming statistics about unemployment continues to plague us. As many as 162,000 people with some kind of degree cannot find work, according to Labour Ministry's statistics this month. An emphasis on getting into university does not inspire students who want to try alternative options.

At the same time, the Ministry of Education and Training is still pondering on how to reform our exam system, which emphasises theories, but offers little to develop critical thinking or practice. Vu Thi Phuong Anh, former head of the Centre for Education Testing and Quality Assessment at Viet Nam National University in HCM City said the media should also monitor student successes after graduation. She agreed there were many success stories about young people, but added that it was imbalanced if students taking unconventional paths were not also encouraged.

Viet Nam is, more than ever, in desperate need of those who think outside the box. Time for us to recognise talent, no matter where it comes from or how. — VNS

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