Vietnamese students give up on academic competitions

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Vietnam's rigorous testing demands are discouraging talented high school seniors from participating in math and science contests, educators say.


Some worry that the demands of entrance exams have hurt Vietnam's performance at international contests in recent years.


At a conference in Hanoi on Wednesday, experts blamed the 2007 decision to suspend regulations that exempted the winners of national competitions to go to university without taking regulated entrance exams.


Nguyen Thanh Hung, Vice Principal of Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam National University's High School for the Gifted, said after finishing high school, all students want to attend a university.


As a result, Hung claimed, they choose to spend their remaining time studying for the exams rather than academic competitions.


In fact, there have been students who achieved high honors at national contests, but failed their university entrance exams in July.


Some said that those talented students didn't pass the exams, because they were focused on one subject only, while the exams test students' performance in three.


"Graduates focus on English to study abroad, instead of taking part in national competitions," said Nguyen Duc Hoang, Principal at the High School for the Gifted at Hanoi's University of Education.


"Because students aren't passionate about [academic] contests, teachers at gifted schools are losing their enthusiasm in training teams for competitions as well."


Hoang attributed the waning interest to limited incentives for the winners.


Flagging student interest has translated to the flagging quality of the teams selected for international competitions, said Professor Ha Huy Khoai from the Institute of Mathematics.


In fact, according to the Ministry of Education and Training, Vietnam's performance at international Olympiad competitions has gotten worse over the past five years, while other regional countries are showing progress.


This year Vietnam achieved two gold medals in five subjects, while Singapore and Indonesia took six each, and Thailand scooped 12.


In 1999, three-fourths of Vietnam's computer skills team won gold medals.


Over the past seven years, the country hasn't won a single gold medal. This year it only took one bronze medal, according to the ministry.


Vietnam doesn't fare any better in math.


In 2000 the country's team ranked fifth at the Mathematics Olympiads. This year, if fell to tenth place, while Thailand jumped from 29th in 2000 to fifth this year.


Following the reports, educators suggested the ministry restore regulations allowing national contest winners to go to universities without taking entrance exams.


They further recommended shifting a number of policies to create opportunities for more singularly gifted students.

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