It is not often that we can motivate a study of education in a developing country because they are doing so well. Vietnam is that success story. In the span of 25 years, Vietnam went from one of the poorest countries in Asia with abysmal living standards and stagnating educational attainment to one of high growth rates and impressive educational outcomes: Vietnam’s 2012 PISA scores in reading and math surpassed those of many developed countries, such as the US and UK, and exceeded those of many other developing countries by more than a standard deviation.
At this time, when we are facing a learning crisis in the world, it is crucial to look at the Vietnam case and understand what worked in their context, and how it worked, and what lessons we can learn that can be applied elsewhere. Furthermore, we must also understand what did not work in their drive to remarkable gains in education – it is commonly understood that the improvements were not uniform across all socioeconomic strata, ethnic groups and regions in Vietnam. While the government has initiated increased financing and decentralization, the implementation across provinces is variable. Further study is warranted to understand how governance has supported or impeded academic outcomes. In short, Vietnam is an opportunity for much research to be done, both in lessons for other countries and for sustainability of the success story within Vietnam itself.
Examine the institutional reforms and understand what levers of support existed that made such an extraordinary change possible. They will look to understand what Vietnam’s Theory of Change was, how it came to work, and in what ways it did not work.