New $3.4 bln education project concerns experts

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A student browses at the Fahasa bookstore in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. A new VND70 trillion (US$3.4 billion) project to renovate Vietnam's academic programs and textbooks has drawn flak from experts and educators.

Experts and educators have voiced concerns over a VND70 trillion (US$3.4 billion) project that will revamp Vietnam's academic programs and update textbooks starting 2015.

Early this month, officials at the Ministry of Education and Training unveiled the project, which will establish new academic programs and textbooks from first to twelfth grades, create new schools and facilities, and provide new teacher training.

Professor Pham Minh Hac, former Minister of Education and Training, told Thanh Nien that, so far, the education ministry has not announced how it will "totally and fundamentally renovate the country's education system""” an initiative launched during the 11th Party Congress in January.

Hac, who currently chairs Vietnam's Society for Psychology and Education, argued there's no point in talking about creating new academic programs and textbooks now.

If the whole education system changes, everything will have to change accordingly, he added.

Nguyen Minh Thuyet, vice chairman of the National Assembly's Committee on Culture Education Youth and Children, also said those steps will have to be made after fundamental changes are made to the whole system.

Since the ministry has yet to submit a plan for the renovation of the entire system and its development strategies from now until 2020, these new changes won't address current shortcomings, Thuyet said.

"The creation of new academic programs and textbooks should take place in the final stage of the education system's renovation," said Van Nhu Cuong, the author of high school mathematics textbooks who was present at the ministry's June meeting.

Both Hac and Cuong advised ministerial officials to think of a revision of academic programs and textbooks which have been heavily criticized for overburdening students as only a temporary measure.

Ho Thieu Hung, former director of Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training, said anyone who has some knowledge and experience in education management is aware that academic programs and textbooks are "important" but not "decisive" factors in the present quality of Vietnam's education system.

The ministry's time and money should be diverted toward a larger and more general revamp, he said.

The vice chairman of Vietnam's Society of Literature Study and Teaching, Tran Huu Ta also expressed doubt about the program's effectiveness.

Ta said the ministry needs to discuss at least five things, including Vietnam's education philosophy and its objectives and structures, before renovating academic programs and textbooks.

He said the ministry should figure out how to close the gaps in education quality between Vietnam's various communities particularly the differences between education in developed and ethnic minority communities.

Ta added that the ministry should also focus on improving teacher expertise and skills.

In a response to the criticism, Pham Manh Hung, the education ministry's office manager, sent out a letter Wednesday, which states that the proposed revisions are totally in line with party and government policies.

The new initiatives will bring fundamental changes to existing academic programs, their objectives and their teaching methodology, he said.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Vu Dinh Chuan, one of the program's authors, said the estimated cost, which has concerned officials and the public, still needs to be approved by related agencies.

"We will continue making more detailed calculations and building a suitable investment plan," he said.

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