Forty-four students in the northern province of Sơn La have been the centre of attention in the past few days.
It has been claimed their parents paid a fortune to get them into university.
The allegations are that the students had their test scored adjusted in last year’s national high school exam – which will be used to determine their academic readiness for college – along with 178 other students from two other provinces.
It was a cheating scandal that rocked the country. As investigation goes on, rumour has it the amount of money spent to increase the score of one student in Sơn La is equal to the average salary a teacher earns in Việt Nam after a lifetime of tireless devotion.
It should be noted that Vietnamese children are under immense pressure to get a university degree. And the scandal shows Vietnamese parents are also under immense pressure to make sure their children have a university education.
This mentality was stemmed from the fact that a university degree is the first and foremost requirement for candidates who apply for office jobs in Việt Nam in the hope of being able to make a living.
These “knowledge workers” earn about VNĐ9.5 million (US$406) a month if working for State-owned organisations, according to statistics from the General Statistics Office of Vietnam in the first quarter of this year.
Manual labourers who have no other degrees than high school certificates earn some VNĐ6.6 ($282) per month, which is barely enough to make ends meet, especially if they have children.
The textile sector, a foundation of the country’s economy, is also a tough place to work.
Eighty-four strikes took place in 2018 due to low salaries. The average basic wage for workers was VNĐ4.2 million ($180) per month, according to a survey by the Labour Relations Board under the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour in 2018.
Most of factory workers put in more hours to get overtime pay to cover their basic expenses, according to the survey.
Attempts to reform the country’s educational system have been made in recent years, including the Government’s decision to encourage students with average and below-average grades to take on vocational training after finishing secondary school instead of going to high school.
But the dire prospect of sticking to a life of manual labour seems unsettling for the majority of Vietnamese parents, and in their eyes the university degree is paramount for their children to make a good living.
But paying exam markers to increase their children’s scores is surely an act that puts their morality into question, whether it is thousands of dollars or a few millions of đồng.
Dr Lê Viết Khuyến, former deputy head of the Higher Education Department under the Ministry of Education and Training, said: “Using money to increase the scores and ‘buy’ these children their future is hurting them.”
“It will leave a negative effect on their thinking and the way they see life, and will probably make them lazy thinking money can buy everything,” he told the online newspaper Zing.vn.
“Their distorted perspectives will turn them into negative people. Those with poor capability will struggle in their jobs later on.”
Dr Vũ Thu Hương, former lecturer at the Hà Nội University of Education, added: “If the students agreed to cheat, they have compromised their moral values.
“This will make it easier for them to turn a blind eye on bad things, thinking ‘everyone will do the same, it’s because of the situation, it’s not my fault’.”
The race into universities exists not only in Việt Nam and Asian countries.
A million-dollar college admission scam was uncovered in the United States in March 2019.
William Rick Singer, organiser of the scam, received money from college applicants’ parents to fake their resumes and inflate their scores in the two college admission tests ACT and SAT.
Thirty-three parents were accused of paying Singer some $25 million between 2011 and 2018 to secure their children’s places at several top American universities, some of them were businesspeople and well-known actors.
The scam is the largest of its kind to be prosecuted by the US Justice Department.
It illustrates how the love of parents for their children can sometimes, go way too far.
It is understandable how parents, in whichever part of the world, love their children and always want the best for them.
But they need to draw a line between loving and loving so much they feel the need to cheat on a grand scale.
Too much protection can hinder a child’s growth.
Paying a fortune to get them a seat at universities that thousands of other students must fight for not only thwarts their will to try hard to get what they want, it also robs them of the opportunities to learn to stand on their own feet.
And for some of those unlucky children, this could be a stain on their lives they remember for many years with embarrassment and shame.
As someone who has been lucky enough to follow a straight path – high school, college and a good job – it would be pretentious for me to say life would be okay without a college degree.
But I hope parents everywhere will be brave enough to let go of their children when they need to, and young people will be brave enough to pick themselves up every time they fall. VNS