Viet Nam News spoke to Deputy Education Minister Nguyen Vinh Hien and two US advisors collaborating with the World Bank and the Ministry of Education and Training on textbook reform.
What have we been doing to prepare for the replacement of textbooks for grade 1-12? Will an integrated curriculum be at the centre of this reform project?
Deputy Education Minister Nguyen Vinh Hien: Obviously there is lots of work to be done. We are finalising our plan to be submitted to the Government and National Assembly.
Surely, an integrated curriculum is important to reform. An integrated curriculum allow students to draw relations in knowledge from various disciplines, giving them better skills and knowledge to deal with problems at school and in life. If we teach each subject separately, the whole learning and teaching process is not as effective.
With the new curriculum that we are working on, the requirement for integrated teaching will be much higher. That means offering subjects that touch on various disciplines. It also means reducing the number of subjects students are required to take, but they will be able to use the knowledge better and more effectively.
That target is not so easy to achieve – from writing the new books to having qualified teachers.
Are we changing the books completely from grade 1 to grade 12 or will we do it gradually?
Hien: We will build a general curriculum from grade 1 to grade 12. Based on that, we will develop new books focusing on ensuring the coherence of knowledge presented.
We will not apply the new books all at once. For the elementary level, we can change all the books from grade 1 to grade 5 at one time. However, for other grades, it can be done gradually because the structure of lessons in higher grades will need to be gradually revised.
We have looked at the experience of other countries. In Viet Nam, it can take longer, from writing textbooks for integrated subjects to preparing teachers.
Our ministry has continued training teachers on their ability to use integrated knowledge, particularly being able to use knowledge from various disciplines and apply it into teaching.
Professor William Schmidt, Centre for the Study of Curriculum, Michigan State University:
We have analysed hundreds of textbook from many different countries, so I have lots of experiences looking at textbooks and what it means for textbooks to be aligned with the learning standards that are put into place.
You need to look at the degree to which the textbooks line up with the new learning standard. You have to look at the sequence of topics within a mathematics textbook to see whether it reflects the coherence of mathematics.
Coherence is a big issue. You can't just arbitrarily put topics, especially in mathematics, together. There's a logical structure to math that needs to be respected. The curriculum has to reflect that structure or kids won't have a chance to learn. When the textbook does not properly reflect the structure of math, learning becomes like memorising a phone-book.
Besides the content coverage, you also need to look at other things like competencies, which basically is the degree to which you go beyond the content and use it to solve problems.
Are we going to have one set of textbooks or more?
Hien: We are planning to have one curriculum for each grade and various sets of textbook to serve the curriculum. Individuals and organisations can certainly take part in the writing of textbooks and schools can choose which one to use, but under the supervision of the Education Ministry.
The general education programme cannot be changed all at once. Many countries change textbooks every five to 10 years to update new knowledge.
When we have better capabilities, we will consider offering more subjects that integrate various disciplines. However, we must understand that our general education programme is not strictly fixed.
There must be periodical assessments for adjustment. We plan to allow various stakeholders to write textbooks. This means we can have different approaches to writing textbook and increase healthy competition. Viet Nam spans various regions and this means our textbooks need to reflect the diversity.
Professor Michael Kamil, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University:
In the US, the 50 states all evaluate textbook materials and put them on a list. Individual schools or school districts can select the materials they want to use. Schools usually go through a long process of deciding, asking teachers whether the material is good and up to date.
The decision is left in the hand of schools. Different schools might have different student population, values and different approach to teaching. Those differences lead to different choices in textbooks.
Professor Schmidt: The notion of having private publishers is desirable.
We have analysed textbooks from about 40-50 countries. All have systems with multiple publishers. All textbooks have to be aligned with the standards but they can take different approaches.
Some textbooks have to be approved by the Government. In others, it's a market phenomenon. In those countries, you would not buy a book if it wasn't aligned with the standard because students using that book would not do well on the exams. — VNS