Even though the majority of Vietnamese students at international schools plan to study at overseas universities, some worry that if they cannot do so, they will not be able to gain entry into Vietnamese universities due to differences in curricula.
The number of Vietnamese children studying at international schools in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is rising. Parents want their children to have better conditions for learning a foreign language, developing creativity and gaining essential knowledge and skills for university abroad, all in an international environment.
Nguyen Mai Ngoc, a 12th grade student at a French school in Hanoi, said most of the Vietnamese students in her class want to study at universities abroad, but high accommodation fees and living costs are factors that can prevent them from doing so, unless they win a scholarship.
And, getting a scholarship is no easy task. Students must have records of good behavior and excellent results in all quarters of academic years from tenth to 12th grade, and score 16 out of 20 points for all subjects at the high school final exam, Ngoc said.
Last year, less than half of 12th-grade Vietnamese students in her school received the much needed scholarship to attend university abroad. This year, Ngoc is the only one among more than ten local students in her class eligible to apply for a scholarship. She has studied at the school for seven years.
Those left behind are faced with attending a local university. However, differences in curricula and the limited Vietnamese language skills of local international school students make it difficult for them to take the entrance exam for local universities.
International schools do not spend much time teaching their students Vietnamese, leading some local students to speak their adopted foreign language better than their native language.
Cao Quynh Loc, who has studied at an international school for the past five years, says, "If we don't go to university abroad, we have limited choice for further education here."
"We also cannot move to study in local high schools after many years of studying at an international school because it is difficult to fall in line with life there, as well as follow the curriculum."
In case tenth grade student Loc cannot get a scholarship to study abroad, she is preparing to take the entrance exam for a foreign language university in Vietnam.
"I have no problem when it comes to the foreign language, but it is difficult to do the subjects of math and literature [at the university entrance exam]," she said. "There are some major differences between the curricula of the two subjects, especially literature."
To prepare, Loc has read many textbooks from local schools for reference. She plans to have private tuition when she is in the 12th grade to help her prepare for the university entrance exam. Many other Vietnamese students do the same.
Nguyen Tuan Hoang, an 11th grade student from a French school in Hanoi said his friends from local schools help him choose textbooks and reference books, and explain things that he finds difficult.
"Vietnamese books focus on theory, helping me to reinforce logical thinking, while French books lean on practice, and concretize complicated concepts, helping me understand issues more quickly," he said. "Because they complement each other, I will have a profound knowledge."
Not sure whether he can go abroad to study at university or not, Hoang takes private Vietnamese lessons so as to better understand the local textbooks he needs to prepare for the university entrance exam next year. He wants to study natural sciences, basic physics or economics at university.
Ngoc said the curriculum of 12th grade students at her international school is heavy, so she has no time for private lessons. She learns about the curriculum at local schools by asking her friends and reading reference books. She used to take private lessons with a Vietnamese teacher two to three times a week when she was in seventh to tenth grade.
Ngoc said if she did not receive a scholarship to study overseas, she will spend a further year studying in order to pass the entrance exam for university in Vietnam.