by Thu Huong Le
A recent article in Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper described the bustling markets outside universities in HCM City where people order and sell fake certificates. These certificates range from those that "certify" your ability in English, including TOEFL and ToEIC, to even vocational training and teaching certificates.
These markets are operated openly and publicly, with prices varying according to whether the certificates are "awarded" by the Ministry of Education and Training or prestigious universities, or normal education centres. Demand comes from those who need them to graduate from university, to apply for jobs or to be eligible for promotions.
With the growing economy fuelling competition for employment and the pressure to obtain a degree, using fake documents is not a new thing in Viet Nam, or pertained only to this country. However, this once again emphasises the root cause that plagues the education sector – dishonesty.
In one of the essays written for Tia Sang (Ray of Light) magazine by Professor Hoang Tuy, considered one of Viet Nam's most accomplished scientists of the 20th century, he wrote that "nowhere are the four virtues of diligence, efficiency, honesty and integrity more needed than in education and science" and an education and science system that "lacks these moral principles will not function properly and, sooner or later, will stagnate".
Mark Ashwill, former director of the Institute of International Education-Viet Nam and current managing director of Capstone - a Ha Noi-based human resources development company - said certificates were mere pieces of paper that may or may not reflect the actual skills or capability of a job applicant. "There are no shortcuts to quality of accomplishments in a country that desperately needs both," he said.
Dishonesty serves as the foundation for corrupt practices, such as cheating during exams, plagiarising, bribing teachers or education officials, and using fake degrees and certificates to lie about your abilities.
Dennis McCornac, a US professor who first came to Viet Nam in 1994 as part of a market economics training programme, said the acts of using fake certificates or cheating during exams did not appear to be that harmful to society, but businesses and employers were finding that many of those college graduates did not have the proper skills to compete in the real world.
And that would hurt Viet Nam in the long term.
For years, we've been talking about how Viet Nam must transform into a knowledge-based society with a highly-skilled labour force, one that is equipped with knowledge and practical skills. But that won't happen if we continue to let the education system allow dishonest practices to flourish.
And I think the lesson about honesty can start in the first grade. Many students resort to cheating or plagiarising because they do not like the subjects. We have to cultivate a passion for knowledge in each one of them instead of cramming them with useless information. When you do something with passion, you won't rely on dishonest practice.
"The importance of honesty must be instilled in children at a very young age and reinforced in school," Ashwill said. "More importantly, it must be institutionalised in the education system and other societal institutions, and include disincentives for dishonesty."
As another school year begins and talks about education reforms continue, let's hope for the best. Let's hope the system will produce those who will succeed in the future, but succeed with dignity and integrity. — VNS