HCM City, Hà Nội take first steps to schools autonomy

Update: November, 26/2018 - 09:00
Hà Nội and HCM City are both rolling experiments in granting more autonomy to public schools in hopes of improving educational quality and reducing the schools’ reliance on the State budget.— Photo

HCM CITY — Hà Nội and HCM City are both rolling experiments in granting more autonomy to public schools in hopes of improving educational quality and reducing the schools’ reliance on the State budget.

The southern city’s Department of Education and Training for the first time allowed two high schools to recruit their own teachers this school year. Nationally well-known Lê Hồng Phong and Trần Đại Nghĩa high schools for the gifted no longer needed to await the education department’s approvals for teacher contracts or receive transferred teachers appointed to the schools.

HCM City was preparing to extend recruitment autonomy to more high schools in the 2019-2020 school year, the municipal education department’s human resource division head Nguyễn Huỳnh Long told Người Lao Động (Labourer) newspaper.

All high schools for the gifted in the city and Nguyễn Du, Lê Quý Đôn and Nguyễn Hiền schools would be part of the pilot programme, Long said.

As well as personnel autonomy, HCM City authorities appear to be ready to ease their grip on how high schools collect and spend their money.

Education and training department director Lê Hồng Sơn said his department was working on a proposal to the city People’s Council to allow high schools to become financially autonomous, with those that meet certain conditions allowed to set their own tuition fees for non-profit purposes.

Schools, however, must strictly follow regulations to assess and publicly release reports on their spending and assets if granted autonomy, Sơn said.

“The proposal actually comes from the fact that many schools are now less dependent on the State budget,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to grant a complete autonomy to schools while the authorities will only oversee the quality of education output.”  

HCM City so far has five public schools already financially independent of the State budget while more than 1,220 others are partly funded.

The capital Hà Nội, meanwhile, is also piloting school autonomy but in a different way.

The city’s focus is not on high schools like HCM City but rather at those certified as “high quality educational facilities”.

According to Nguyễn Viết Cấn, head of the Division of Planning-Finance under the Hà Nội’s education department, the city has carried out a programme to grant financial autonomy to 12 high quality public schools. They included all levels of the education system from kindergartens to primary, secondary and high schools.

Those schools were set to have their infrastructure and operation costs Cấn by the Government for three years after they were acknowledged as high quality, Caarn said.

When the three years passed, the schools would be on their own. Their income would mainly come from tuition fees, which would be capped by the authorities.

The schools, however, were yet to receive autonomy in teacher recruitment.

“The Department of Home Affairs has yet to issue guidelines on the issue,” Cẩn said.

HCM City and Hà Nội are the first cities in Việt Nam seriously attempting to reform oublic education by handing more freedom to schools.

These moves finally came following repeated calls over the past decades for the Government to reform education, including granting more autonomy to public schools over curricula, personnel and financial spending, but little was done.

Many schools, especially those in poorer localities, still wanted a stable financial guarantee from the State budget while the Ministry of Education was reluctant to give up its role in managing educational quality.

HCM City’s Nguyễn Du High School headmaster Huỳnh Thanh Phú acknowledged the problem, saying that a full autonomy poses risk to a school though it is beneficial in many ways.

“If a school is funded by the State budget, it can rest assured it will have money to pay salary to teachers regardless of what happens. However, there will be other problems like the budget is not enough to run extra activities or improve the educational quality,” he said.

“A fully autonomous school will know what is really necessary to spend for the students. It, however, will totally depend on the headmaster to decide. If he or she fails, the school won’t be able to enroll students and there will be no income for the teachers.” — VNS