Research to Improve Vietnam’s Education System
Principal Investigators:Dr Paul Glewwe (University of Minnesota), Dr Joan DeJaeghere (University of Minnesota), Dr Le ThucDuc (Centre for Analysis and Forecasting and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Young Lives)
Other key researchers: Pedro Carneiro (University College London), Hai-Anh H. Dang (World Bank), Sonya Krutikova (Institute for Fiscal Studies), Jonathan D. London (Leiden University), Caine Rolleston (University College London), PhungDuc Tung (Mekong Development Research Institute),
Key institutions: University of Minnesota, the Centre for Analysis and Forecasting, the Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences, and the Mekong Development Research Institute.
Other affiliated institutions: the (UK) Institute for Fiscal Studies, Leiden University, University College London, the University of Oxford, and the World Bank.
Time: 2016 – 2022
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 great improvements were not uniform across all socioeconomic strata, ethnic groups and regions in that country. While increasing financing and decentralization have been initiatives of the government, how they have been implemented 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.
The team will 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, and how it came to work, and in what ways it did not work.
The research plan will start with a diagnostic phase that will seek to establish which elements and relationships within Vietnam’s education system induce actors (government, education and party officials, as well as teachers, principals and parents) to act in ways that produce learning, and where gaps in learning persist. The diagnostic exercise will include a mapping of de jure system structures as well as de facto characteristics of principal-agent relationships for key design elements (i.e. delegation, finance, information and motivation) across each relationship of accountability.
In particular, several distinctive features of Vietnam’s governance and economy will inform the analysis of the education system. These include (a) the presence of a one-party state with no direct elections; (b) a decentralised fiscal and administrative system; (c) rapid urbanisation and increasing rural to urban migration; (d) the absence of independent teacher unions; (e) pervasiveness of opaque formal and informal fee structures and shadow education; (f) a trained and well-regarded teaching force with little autonomy; (g) an engaged civil society.
One key step in the diagnostic phase is digging deeper into the PISA data to certify whether it suffered from any sampling bias, for example, from selection of participating schools. Importantly, the team will also check the results of ethnic minorities vis-à-vis other students and provide an assessment of whether these groups perform less well in Vietnam’s education system.