Vietnam minister denies huge costs of educational reform amid criticism

By Tue Nguyen, Thanh Nien News

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Responding to critics, Vietnam’s educational minister Sunday denied that a plan to reform K-12 education over the next 10 years would cost at least US$1.6 billion.
Pham Vu Luan made the statement in an interview with Vietnam Television, one week after his deputy Nguyen Vinh Hien presented the plan at a meeting with the National Assembly’s Standing Committee.
According to the Minister of Education and Training, the cost was incorrectly reported and was never mentioned in the proposal submitted to the committee and the government.
“It was a very unfortunate mistake, and the education ministry would like to take responsibility for it,” he said.
Luan said he and the rest of the ministry leadership had yet to discuss or calculate the project cost and therefore had not included any such projections in the initial written proposal.
Only when the project received approval from the National Assembly -- Vietnam'sl legislature -- would the ministry begin work on a detailed plan that included cost estimates and public input, he said.
Asked about the VND34.27 trillion cost ($1.6 billion) projection reported at the meeting last week, the minister said the figure was compiled from different studies by different groups of experts.
The rough figure included teacher training and new infrastructure costs, Luan said, in addition to the cost of writing new textbooks and academic programs which remain the focus of the project.
The minister, however, did not comment on criticism from lawmakers and members of the public who argued that the proposed plan was too vague and impractical.
Speaking to Thanh Nien about the education minister’s interview, Nguyen Minh Thuyet, an outspoken lawmaker who retired in 2011, wondered how a project could win approval without clear cost estimates.
It is necessary to know how much a project is going to cost before deciding to approve or drop it, he said.
Associate Professor Van Nhu Cuong, president of Hanoi’s Luong The Vinh High School, meanwhile, criticized the ministry’s work ethic in an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
He pointed out that various ministry officials have offered conflicting breakdowns and justifications of the figure since the education ministry first presented it.
Thuyet also criticized the ministry for reporting the figure to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee and then making it public, before having it reviewed by relevant agencies and approved by the government.
“I found it unimaginable that such a funny thing could happen, and worse, that it could pertain to the very important reform of our national education system,” he said.
In the most explicit gesture to shore up an education system that has been dogged by crisis at all levels, Vietnam's top leadership last November passed a resolution on an across-the-board overhaul of the sector.
Experts say Vietnam's education system is rigid, of suspect quality and riddled with scandals in recent years. They say the sector is widely regarded as being in crisis at all levels. Teaching methods remain too passive, with students having little chance to interact with the teacher, discuss issues, or ask questions.

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