Professor Nguyen Mau Banh, general secretary and vice president of the Viet Nam Veteran Teacher Association, spoke to Vanguard (Tien Phong) newspaper about changes in the country's education system.
What breakthrough initiatives and movements have been utilised in the education system?
The most important breakthrough was a change in the way Vietnamese schools and teachers look at education. We are shifting from the traditional closed-education system, which focuses heavily on curriculum, to the open-education system, which focuses on meeting the demands of various stakeholders and interacting with external environments.
Another was reducing the number of university and college entrance-exams. We went from four exams to just one, the high school exam, saving the State trillions and still maintaining education standards, as well as satisfying society and students' demands.
Government Decision 77 provided the legal framework and mechanisms for public universities to become more autonomous and proactive in designing their own programmes. It aimed to improve the quality of education and make it more financially independent. The number of universities registered under this policy has increased from four to 11 since last year.
Some have pointed out limitations and problems with the new university and college entrance exam. What's your view on this?
The new exam is good, but there are a few remaining issues. For example, we organise who takes the exam where based on geographical location. The Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) should take the number of students taking the exam in neighbouring provinces into consideration when they decide on the location.
Another thorny issue is that our system focuses too much on exams. There are only a few of them, and the results may not reflect students' hard work and knowledge. It should, instead, be based on performance and regular tests to encourage students to study regularly.
After centralising exams and reducing the number of them, what's the next step for the country's education system?
The idea is to open universities and colleges to more students, but still ensure the quality of education. For that to happen, high school students must be provided guidance and direction on whether they should enter universities or vocational schools.
We should also tighten the quality control process during university and college years to train professionals who will be capable of meeting employers' demands when they start working.
Next on the list is to restructure the country's pedagogical universities and curriculum to train teachers who will contribute to the country's education reforms.
Textbooks recently attracted the public's attention. There was a time when MoET proposed using VND34,000 billion (US$1.6 billion) to redo the country's textbooks. What do you think about this?
The concept of using several different textbooks for one curriculum must be studied further before we make a decision. From what I know, MoET encouraged other organisations to build their own textbooks, but the ministry is still working on its own textbook project.
This shows that the ministry is still unwilling to push hard for reform on that front. Competition among textbooks builders will produce good-quality products, and customers will be able to choose which one they want to use.
As for the content, we do not have to change everything, and we can always start on the things that must be changed first. Some can be supplemented or modified.
Modernising teaching methods is an indispensable part of education reform, just as teachers are an indispensable part of modernising teaching methods. What policies would help Vietnamese teachers fully commit to teaching?
The first, also the most important, objective is to ensure teachers can make a living without having to give extra lessons. The Government has said several times that teachers should be among the highest paid in the administrative system.
Teachers' salaries must be doubled, or even tripled, to realise that goal. Also, teachers should get incentives for working in remote areas. The only solution, in my opinion, is to use the public-private partnership model in our education system.
To modernise teaching methods, we must start with pedagogical universities. Regulations must be strictly enforced to ensure our teachers are capable of performing their jobs and holding up to the education sector's code of conduct. — VNS