MDRI joins RISE in a new project to improve learning on a large scale in Vietnam

Photo credit: The Global Partnership (

(June 24, 2016) OXFORD, England _ Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) – a new initiative aimed at conducting high-quality research to build evidence to enhance children’s learning throughout the world – announced today that it will begin work in Vietnam.

The £4.2 million, six-year undertaking will seek to understand how Vietnam “got it right” in creating an education system that has led its students to achieve learning levels exceeding those of their peers in far wealthier nations.

The project in Vietnam is one of four research endeavours currently being launched in countries throughout the world in order to shed light on ways to address a global learning crisis. Countries around the world have been remarkably successful in making progress toward universal primary schooling, but in many places, learning levels are poor, or have declined. As a result, even when children finish many years of schooling, they still lack basic maths and literacy skills. The RISE agenda emphasises the need to make changes that can provide children with the education they need to be successful adults in their local, national, and global communities.

“The fact that nearly every child is in school represents an enormous victory for humankind,” said Lant Pritchett, RISE Research Director, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, and a professor of the practice of international development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Now that they are there, let’s continue that momentum to make sure that every child in school is learning.”

Research about the experiences of Vietnam offer the potential to inform policies that can help the other countries enhance students’ education.

Vietnam’s achievements in primary and secondary education over the last two decades are extraordinary. Out of 65 countries, Vietnam ranked 17th in maths and 19th in reading – surpassing both the United States and the United Kingdom – in the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the worldwide scholastic performance measure of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Vietnam’s primary school completion rate is 97 percent, and its lower secondary enrolment rate is 92 percent.

“Vietnam’s success raises key questions about how it reached such levels of learning, and whether its achievements can provide insights that help other nations,” said Paul Glewwe, one of the research team’s principal investigators. He has been engaged in research in Vietnam for 25 years, and is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota. “The project is very ambitious in scope, and it takes advantage of an incredible success story in education in developing countries.”

A team of nine experts from institutions within and outside of Vietnam will undertake a systematic evaluation of Vietnam’s education system by analysing the status and impacts of past, current and upcoming educational reforms. The aim is to understand how policy levers made Vietnam’s exceptional achievements possible, and whether and how new reforms are able to build on its achievements.

Key questions are:

  • What explains Vietnam’s high levels of student learning? Insights from the Vietnam experience are likely to provide lessons that can be used to improve the education systems of other countries. The team will undertake historical analysis of the underpinnings and evolution of Vietnam’s education. The system includes many distinctive features, among them a complex combination of public and private funding that has given rise to a “shadow education” system. That is, in most areas of Vietnam, even in rural areas, parents pay to send their primary-school-age children to “extra study.”
  • What impact will current and planned curriculum reforms have on student educational outcomes? Vietnam is embarking on comprehensive, system-wide curricular reforms that are aiming to fundamentally change how teachers teach, and what and how students learn. Because one of the key reform programmes is already being used in more than 20 other countries, the researchers will be able to make comparisons about how certain changes work in different countries. Vietnam’s “next generation” reforms are aimed at building up students’ skill to emphasise problem solving and teamwork rather than memorisation. The team will evaluate whether these reforms affect student learning over time, and they will seek to understand why any boosts in learning takes place.

Vietnam’s push to continue to improve its educational system stems from the desire to address inequalities in education among certain populations within the country, and from the realisation that it will need to expand its supply of skilled labour in order to continue the nation’s economic growth, which has led to broad-based improvements in living standards over the past generation.

“Debates about how best to sustain growth and to improve living standards form the backdrop of efforts to reform Vietnam’s education system,” said Le Thuc Duc, a Senior Researcher and Head of the Section for Economic Forecasts at the Centre for Analysis and Forecasting, a policy-oriented institutional member of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.

The Vietnam team includes nine researchers affiliated with institutions throughout the world. Principal bases are at the University of Minnesota, where faculty have been engaged with education research in Vietnam for decades; the Centre for Analysis and Forecasting, a policy-oriented institution within the Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences, a think tank of the Government of Vietnam; and the Mekong Development Research Institute, an independent scientific research agency that focuses on public policy and social change.  Other affiliated institutions include Leiden University, University College London, the (UK) Institute for Fiscal Studies, the World Bank, and the University of Oxford. The team members offer expertise in fields that include education, comparative and international development, economics, and political economy.

“Vietnam is an incredible success story, and it is enormously important to understand how Vietnam produces high levels of learning success while facing many of the institutional and poverty-related challenges many other countries face,” Pritchett said.

RISE was launched in 2015 to conduct high-quality research to build a body of world-class evidence to inform education policy, and to raise learning outcomes for children in the developing world. Research in Vietnam and elsewhere seeks to shift emphasis away from long-standing, input-oriented goals – children’s attendance in schools – and toward output-oriented achievements – increased literacy and numeracy skills.


RISE is supported by £27.6 million in funding from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), which has dedicated £21 million to high-quality research in up to five countries, and £6.6 million to support expert advice and management; and the  Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) whose commitment of A$9.85 million (£5.1 million) has allowed RISE to incorporate a sixth country.

RISE is managed and implemented through a partnership based in Oxford, UK, between leading international development consultancy Oxford Policy Management and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. Research is led by Professor Pritchett and a team at the Center for Global Development, a non-profit think tank based in Washington, DC.

The Vietnam Country Research Team is a multidisciplinary group composed of nine researchers from institutions worldwide, including Vietnam, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. Main operations are at the University of Minnesota, and the Centre for Analysis and Forecasting, a policy-oriented institution member of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences. Other participating institutions include Leiden University, University College London, the (UK) Institute for Fiscal Studies, the World Bank, and the University of Oxford. The team members offer expertise in fields that include education, comparative and international development, economics, and political economy. They have extensive experience in conducting research in a developing-country context, broadly, and within Vietnam, in particular.

For more information on RISE Vietnam, visit the programme official page.