Proof of education reform pudding is in eating: ex-minister

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Students practice in a lab of a university in Ho Chi Minh City

A Party resolution to reform the education system is good news, but its implementation holds the key, former education minister Tran Hong Quan tells Vietweek in this interview.

Vietweek: The resolution on an across-the-board overhaul of the education system passed recently by the Communist Party does not mention university education, but only primary, secondary, and high-school education. But university education greatly decides the quality of human resources. What do you think about it?

Tran Hong Quan: University and vocational education often change rapidly with the market's human-resource demand. Resolutions often mention the most fundamental and general issues. This is the reason for the fact that university education is not mentioned in the resolution. But it mentions the most basic educational issues, and I welcome the way the resolution deals with the issues.

The resolution calls for keeping the high-school graduation exam but eliminating university entrance exams. What do you think?

Yes. We should keep the high-school graduation exam and reform it. We should select university students based on their results during three years of high school and in the graduation exam. We should increase the number of subjects in the high-school graduation exam, and organize the exam in a stricter manner to ensure that its results are reliable.

Does the education sector have the determination to go ahead with these reforms?

Education requires constant reform. Considering the many shortcomings of the educational system, comprehensive reform is quite necessary, but it cannot be carried out in a short period of time. Nevertheless, we should implement it as quickly as possible, since the shortcomings have given rise to big issues in society.

There are many issues we need to immediately reform, like syllabuses and management of education. The education reform should ensure that students can bring their creativeness into full play, and meet society's requirements.

What is your biggest concern with regard to implementing the resolution?

My biggest concern is whether the resolution will be implemented well. We have had other good resolutions on reforming education - for example resolution No. 14 on university education reform. However, we have not implemented it well. It needs great determination on the part of the government to ensure the resolution is implemented.

If we think a good resolution is enough and are not determined to implement it well, the resolution will become ineffective like some others.

The resolution seeks to start educational reform with teachers. What should we do to improve teachers' quality?

The improvement of training for teachers so that they can meet society's higher requirements should be accompanied by increasing their income. We can attract quality people to the education sector and teachers can dedicate themselves to their work only when they can live on their salaries.

Former education minister TRAN HONG QUAN
We should encourage the development of private schools. This will help reduce the pressure on public funds. 

How can we reform education with the limited funds available?

We should prioritize funds for kindergarten, primary, secondary, and high school education. Government funds should also be prioritized for training people in high-quality schools. Vocational education, including university education and vocational training, should be considered a service. Individuals should buy the service to improve their capacity, so that they can meet the requirements of the labor market after graduating. Thus, university students should fully pay their training costs. We have not really acknowledged that vocational education is a service.

If there are enough funds, the government can subsidize university students and support the development of private universities. The government does not offer any financial support to private universities. Vietnam now has only 83 private universities and colleges out of a total of 500.

The government has to fund a large number of public universities and colleges, so the money is not enough to meet their needs.

I think the government should tweak the university and college system. We should encourage the development of private schools. This will help reduce the pressure on public funds.

How do you foresee the results of the reform efforts?

I cannot imagine the results since the resolution has yet to be implemented. However, I hope there will be positive changes to education.

The resolution, approved November 4 by Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, seeks to tackle the core issues that have plagued the education sector for years.

"Education and training is the top national priority," the resolution says.

"Investment in the [education] sector must be at the forefront of the nation's socio-economic programs and blueprints."

The resolution focuses on many issues, including reforming method of education, education management, and exams and developing teachers.

Former vice chairman of the National Assembly's Culture and Education Committee, Nguyen Minh Thuyet, pointed out that the resolution encompasses too many measures to improve education quality, saying it should instead focus only on improving teachers.

"We should regard training reforms and improving teachers' quality as the key measure."

Vietnam focuses too much on reforming syllabuses and textbooks, and not on improving teachers' quality, he said.

Without quality teachers, good textbooks and syllabuses are not of much use, he said.

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