Vietnam officials skeptical about cash transfer to families for kids' education

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A young mother in Quang Nam Province cooks green jackfruit and jungle snails for lunch for her children. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Vietnam plans to borrow $75 million, possibly $100 million, from the World Bank for subsidizing poor children's education, but officials have expressed doubts about its efficacy.

Officials warned at a conference Tuesday that a monthly cash handout of VND200,000, or less than $10, to each poor household in four poor provinces would not result in any significant improvement, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported.

Vietnam's 2012 annual income per capita was around $1,555.

The Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs' program will see families with children up to 15 in the northern mountainous province of Ha Giang, the central province of Quang Nam, and the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong benefit from 2014 to 2016.

There were suggestions to include Tra Vinh, one of the poorest provinces in the Mekong Delta, where the number of college students is half the country's average. If Tra Vinh is included, the borrowing will have to be increased to $100 million and the period reduced to two years.

An official in charge of ethnic matters who visited Tra Vinh, which has a large Khmer population, said since a working person there can make at least VND1.5 million a month, the extra VND200,000 for a whole family "won't really add anything."

"As a person in my job, I love ethnic people. But we have to think about the effect of the project."

Many officials told Tuoi Tre on the sidelines of the conference that it is time that charity projects provide fishing rods and teach people how to feed themselves.

Instead of handing out money, the support should be about providing poor people the skills and knowledge required to get jobs or better jobs, they said.

Cash support would fail to persuade people to work and never be enough, they warned.

"Will poor parents use the VND200,000 to send their children to school, or just buy wine?" one official said.

"Many parents do the latter immediately after charity delegations bring them money."

A World Bank official told Tuoi Tre that the money would not be thrown around and only given conditionally.

Families would only get it if they guarantee their children would go to school regularly and achieve certain scores, the official said, adding specific requirements would be incorporated.

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