Better education way to ‘demographic bonus’ benefits

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Increasingly disproportionate sex ratio a serious threat, expert says after release of new census.

Vietnam’s educational system must focus more on encouraging innovation and creativity to make the most of Vietnam’s vast working age population, which is more than double its dependent population, a European expert said.

The Central Steering Committee for Population and Housing Census emphasized need for new policy to benefit from the demographic window at a press conference yesterday at which the sample results report from the 2009 population and housing census was released.

The General Statistics Office, which undertakes the nationwide census once every ten years, pointed out that the country was in the midst of a “demographic bonus” period in which the number of people of working age is more than double the size of those who are of dependent age (i.e. the elderly and young).

“This period usually happens only once in the demographic history of a nation, and can present a great opportunity for socioeconomic advancement if appropriate policies are established for human resource development and if graduates of vocational schools, colleges and universities can all find gainful employment in a growing economy,” the report said.

The proportion of the population under 15 years of age declined from 33 percent in 1999 to 25 percent in 2009, while the group aged 15-59 increased from 58 percent to 66 percent, and the group over 60 years of age rose from 8 percent in 1999 to 9 percent in 2009, the report said.

Educational change

Professor Oscar Salemink of the VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands, an anthropologist focused on Vietnam and Southeast Asia, stressed that in order to compete in the global environment, Vietnam will need a high-caliber and flexible workforce with creative intelligence.

But he was concerned that there was no room for flexibility and creativity in Vietnam’s top-down education system.

“Fixed curricula, rote learning, exams that test the ability to reproduce rather than creative thinking, all these characteristics militate against fostering creative, innovative and solution-oriented capabilities,” Salemink told Thanh Nien Weekly.

Salemink also pointed out that the management of schools and universities in Vietnam tended to be politicized, meaning that appoint ments, promotions and leadership positions were determined as much by political connections as by substantive criteria.

“This often leads to an organizational culture characterized by fear for responsibilities and â€" hence â€" conservatism, rather than creative thinking,” he said.

The report on results of the census survey was compiled based on the consolidated data from a 15 percent sample of all 22 million households in Vietnam surveyed during the first three

Ageing population

The census report also pointed out that once the demographic bonus period ends, Vietnam will face the challenge of an ageing population, the adverse affects of which Salemink said should be mitigated by social safety nets.

The aging index, calculated by dividing the number of people aged 60 or more by the number of people under 15 years of age, has increased 11.4 percent over the past 10 years, from 24.5 percent in 1999 to 35.9 percent in 2009, the report said.

Given this, Vietnam’s aging index is higher than the average rate for the Southeast Asian region (30 percent).

If the country’s family planning program â€" not more than two children per family â€" remains successful a growing number of elderly people will have to be sustained and cared for by a relatively decreasing number of people of working age, Salemink said.

“A larger part of the GDP â€" both absolute and per capita â€" will have to be allocated to the elderly, and hence cannot be used for other purposes like the productive economy, education or health care.”

Improvement is thus needed in required social protection as people become more vulnerable to potential hardship during this period of life, the report said.

SEX SCARE

The census report also pointed out the pressing need to address the disproportionate sex ratio in Vietnam.

It indicated that Vietnam’s sex ratio at birth (SRB) is high at 111 boys per 100 girls in 2009 with the highest disproportionate sex ration recorded in the Red River Delta, 115.3 boys per 100 girls.

Professor Salemink said he expected the disproportionate sex ratio would continue to increase for a number of years, for the simple reason that the technology for monitoring the sex of the fetus is widely available and cheap, and because the “wrong” [female] sex is seen as a legitimate ground for abortion â€" and abortion services are widely available as well in Vietnam.

“A large contingent of young men will be unhappy because they will not be able to find a life partner, and may blame the previous generation of their parents [who are making decisions over prenatal screening and abortion], and may take different decisions themselves,” Salemink said.

But what the government should steer public attention to is not just the sheer numbers about disproportionate sex ration, but the grave impacts it would exert on the society, according to Salemink.

“The sooner it is realized that these dry and boring statistics about the disproportionate sex ration may become real obstacles for human happiness and fulfillment now and in the future, the better it is, so that is what policymakers might focus on.”

Reported by An Dien

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