Anyone who cares about Vietnamese education must have been shocked by recent media reports about the quality and quantity of students who passed entrance exams at specialized universities that train future high school teachers.
The number of students applying to these universities has decreased dramatically compared to previous years. Many universities are even at risk of closing down because they can't recruit enough students.
Meanwhile, many students who were accepted are raising greater concerns with their performances, and the universities have not helped by lowering requirements and standards. In fact, some students managed to get placement at the universities with a history teaching major, even though they had earned just 0.5 or even 0.25 out of ten in their history paper at the entrance exams.
I don't know how lecturers at these universities can turn students with such poor performances into good teachers in four years.
While other countries are making improvements to education, Vietnam is lowering its standards by attempting to make poorly performing students become teachers.
However, it isn't the students' fault. It is the responsibility of people who are in charge of education in the country. Vietnam desperately needs clear and effective initiatives to reform its education system.
We need more incentives to encourage high school students with good performances to apply to universities. Free tuition is not enough. We also need to address the lack of an accreditation system, and the quality of education provided by tertiary institutions in many provinces leaves much to be desired.
Teachers need incentives like higher salaries and Tet bonuses so that their passion is not dulled and their motivation remains high.
After working as a teacher for more than 50 years, I understand what it is like being a Vietnamese teacher. Most of teachers have self-esteem and are willing to devote their life to the career. However, they are discouraged, disregarded and burdened with meager incomes.
So it is not just that the system needs reform, but that it needs it now. Reform plans cannot remain on paper, they need to be implemented.
It is said that "there's always a rainbow after the rain". The skies are cloudy and gloomy over the situation of student enrollment at pedagogical universities. It's time for concerned agencies to cast some sunshine so that a rainbow is formed when it rains.
By Tran Huu Ta
Dr. Tran Huu Ta is the general secretary of Ho Chi Minh City Society of Literature Research and Teaching. The original Vietnamese commentary has been published on Tuoi Tre newspaper.