Ho Chi Minh City education officials dodge questions about Cambridge pull-out

Thanh Nien News

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Ho Chi Minh City’s Education and Training Department failed to directly respond to questions submitted by the local press on June 23 about a new English-language program recently introduced to local schools after a similar four-year pilot was improperly pulled.    
At a one-hour press conference organized by the city’s Department of Education and Training on Monday, many questions were raised about the “real reason” that the Cambridge International Examinations' Program (CIE) was pulled after being implemented for four years at a select group of Ho Chi Minh City schools.

Questions about the quality of the new program received no concrete replies and the conference concluded with the department director asking reporters to wait and see how the new curriculum turns out.

With the department's approval, the EMG Education Company has taught the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) curriculum at the participating schools during the last four years.
The director said that his department believes EMG is “a good partner,” despite reports that the company has failed to properly implement the CIE curriculum.

Students learning the Cambridge program at a primary school in the Ho Chi MInh City. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre

Last year, Thanh Nien News published a comparison of CIE's programs at 9,000 schools in 160 countries and its program in Vietnam; the story concluded that the curriculum was misapplied in two ways.

On June 18, the city Department of Education and Training announced that it would stop enrolling new students into the program and launch a replacement.

Students already enrolled in the program have two options: continue the old program, which will conclude when they graduate, or switch to the new one.

The new program, also run by EMG, was introduced as an integrated program that combines input from  the British Education Ministry and Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training.
The new course will allow students to take science classes in English alone, instead of having to study them twice (both in English and Vietnamese) under the EMG-CIE curriculum.

The EMG Education Company will continue to run the program with the Education and Training Department, despite information that the Cambridge program was stopped because CIE refused to renew its contract with EMG.

Dan Tri newspaper reported that CIE sent letters to the city's Department of Education and Training as well as participating schools, announcing that they had decided to terminate their contract with EMG.
The city's Education and Training Department, however, asked schools not to discuss CIE's letter, claiming that it only should have been sent to the department.
The letter was never released to the press.
Anonymous sources were quoted by Dan Tri and Tuoi Tre as saying that such a letter existed, without providing details. 
The CIE never responded to questions submitted by Tuoi Tre.
EMG claimed the contract had expired and CIE simply chose not to renew it.
At the press conference on Monday, the department's director, Le Hong Son, did not directly reply to a dozen questions raised by local television, radio and newspaper reporters.

“In 2011, we already had an idea to launch a new program, since the old one [CIE] couldn't continue forever. Vietnamese students need to approach innovative programs like CIE, but they also have to follow Vietnamese culture,” Son said.

Son did not reply to a question about the extent to which his department had researched the Cambridge program before implementing it four years ago--only to stop it, claiming that the program failed to “follow Vietnamese culture”.

“Last year, our department recommended CIE cooperate with us to create a new program, but they refused, claiming that they only wanted to use their existing program,” Son said, offering the only official reason for pulling the Cambridge curriculum.

Asked if the new program was fully researched before being implemented at local schools, Son said that the quality of the program will be assessed after it goes into effect.

“Time will tell if the [new] program is good or not. We cannot sit here and evaluate the quality of the program,” Son told a hot briefing room full of reporters, pressing difficult questions about the rationale for the switch.

 “That's enough information," he said, effectively concluding the one-hour briefing that offered few answers. "It’s already 9:30, we need to stop the press conference here.”

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