Vietnam’s impressive results in the 2012 Program for International Student Assesment (PISA) became a big surprise following their publication last December. Vietnam ranked 17 among the 61 participating countries and its Mathematics score was 511, which is higher than the 494 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries average.
This is particularly relevant because Vietnam is one of worst-off countries, socioeconomically speaking, not to say the worst of all participants, but in PISA 2012, it achieved fairly good results. What is Vietnam’s secret?
To shed light on this issue, I reviewed the questionnaires associated with the PISA tests, which are applied to school principals,and found three possible reasons that might explain why Vietnam has a good performance. These are:
1) Some institutionalization and system organization activities remain centralized
In Vietnam, letting teachers go is determined by school-external actors (85% of the principals point to this fact, rendering it the third highest rate in PISA, following Turkey and Greece). In addition, the school principals indicated that student evaluation policies are also established externally (68% of the directors indicated so, making it the second highest rate, after Turkey). In other words, Vietnam presents a centralized education system, both in terms of decisions related to teachers, and in terms of monitoring and evaluation processes that guarantee education quality.
2) Extracurricular activities are undertaken to improve learning results
95% of school principals in Vietnam stated that their schools offer additional activities for the teaching of math (rendering it the third highest rate, following Russia and Luxembourg). The complementary learning activities are also offered in the personal or family sphere. Unlike in other countries, Vietnamese students engage in 17 hours of extracurricular learning activities, the fourth highest rate among the countries participating in PISA (after Kazakhstan, China-Shanghai, and Russia). A large amount of these hours they spend in private learning institutions.
3) Parents and students care about students’ learning
Vietnam is one of the participating countries in PISA, in which parents exert the greatest pressure for students to achieve the best education results. In fact, of the 65 participating countries, Vietnam is in the 8th place. In 91% of all schools, questionnaire respondents admitted that parents exert pressure for students to improve their learning.
On the other hand, the Vietnamese students themselves also highly value their Math education. Thus, 94% of the students agreed (or even strongly agreed) with the following statement: “it is worth making an effort in Math, because it will help us to perform well in our desired profession later on in life.” In fact, Vietnam had the highest response rate in this category of all countries participating in PISA.
These characteristics of Vietnam allow us to visualize an education system that upholds a great commitment from all actors involved to improve its education results and whose experience could possibly be replicated in other countries.
I am confident that these PISA results will generate further research about Vietnam which will inspire countries, both developed and developing, to improve their learning.