Vietnam: Foreign language instruction overdue for overhaul

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Jun 20 13:29:49 UTC 2006

Foreign language instruction for overdue overhaul
16:25' 19/06/2006 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet - The Ministry of Education and Training (MoET)s Institute for
Education Strategy and Programme spent up to four years developing the
Teaching and studying foreign languages in the national education system
in 2006-2015 scheme. However, when plans for the scheme were released,
they drew immediate protest.

Dr. Nguyen Loc, Deputy head of the institute, talked with the press about
the VND16tril (US$1bil) scheme, which has stirred controversy and needs
more than ten years to gain results.

Why do we have to develop a scheme on teaching and studying foreign
languages at this moment?

The results of our research, which was conducted over several years, show
some common comments: the level of foreign language among Vietnamese
students is still low in general. Most students cant use foreign languages
to read and research foreign documents or study training programmes using
foreign languages. This will leads waste of time and resources, both for
state and individuals in the process of teaching and studying foreign

The itinerary for reforming textbooks, including those for the foreign
languages, is not yet complete. Is it a waste and overlap to build a
particular scheme for teaching and studying foreign languages?

Developing this scheme is the policy of the National Assembly and the
Government in the trend of reform of education programme and methodology.
The issue of designing the scheme was proposed in the 2000-2001 period, at
the time we began the reform of textbooks and curricular. Teaching and
studying foreign languages is a complicated and difficult field, which
requires careful research. So still now we can submit the scheme to MoET.

After the previous reforms failed to bring about expected results, why do
you think this scheme will improve the current situation?

Studying foreign languages needs a certain period of time so that the
learner can achieve necessary skills and knowledge. The current foreign
language teaching programme at public schools includes 525 teaching hours
over the seven-year programme and less for the three-year programme. This
is too little for students to reach the sufficient skill and knowledge
level for actual use.

Therefore, our scheme suggests the increase of time for teaching foreign
language and general schools. Accordingly, the foreign language teaching
programme will begin at third grade and run for 10 years, totalling 975
hours, nearly doubling the current period. There will be seamless
continuation between school levels.

To have changes in teaching and studying foreign languages we need to
devise several solutions to realize at the same time. We propose
synchronous solutions. Firstly, foreign language training programmes at
universities both specialized or not in foreign language must have at
least four programmes that are suitable to different input levels of

Newly enrolled students at universities, despite what foreign language
level they may already have, will follow the same programme. If this
scheme is conducted, universities and colleges will apply different
testing systems to classify students for different levels of foreign

The second solution is related to the contingent of teachers. Primary
schools and junior secondary schools need to have more foreign language
teachers. We estimate that from now to 2008-2009, primary schools will
need at least 16,600, and junior secondary schools 4,800 foreign language
teachers. In the following period, 2010-2011, the numbers will be 16,600
and 1,500, respectively.

At the same time, we need to survey, select and foster the foreign
language skills and supportive skills such as multimedia use, the internet
and software and modern foreign language teaching programmes for teachers.
We also suggest encouraging schools to invite or recruit teachers who are
overseas Vietnamese or native speakers.

Along with improving quality and increasing the number of teachers, we
have to improve essential equipment serving foreign language teaching and
study, such as multimedia rooms, curricular, textbooks, and software.

In the current situation, what are the foundations for your institute to
set the goal of having most young Vietnamese fluent in a foreign language
by 2020?

The target set forth by the scheme is most Vietnamese youths being capable
of using a foreign language independently and confidently in
communication, study and work in a multi-language environment. Thus, the
requirement for most is the capability to use foreign language, firstly at
the communication environment, then in study and professional level.

The basic target is quite modest. For example, for high-school graduates,
the requirement is that they can use foreign language fluently in
communication, or to continue study, or for entry level jobs such as
retail without need for further training.

Why does the scheme to comprehensively reform the teaching and study of
foreign language in the national education system set such low targets?

For some places like Hanoi or HCM City, this scheme may seem backward, but
in other areas, the target of this scheme seems is high.

We decided to build this scheme towards setting the line between the above
two extremes, which is suitable for the whole country. The adaptation is
backed by an itinerary, which is slowly implemented over 15 years.

In the initial period, we accept the difference in teaching and studying
foreign language in terms of programme, level, number and the specific
foreign languages for different regions and education establishments.
However, we encourage schools to perform this programme more quickly than
the requirement of the scheme.

With estimated spending for this programme at VND16tril, how will this
realize the goals of this scheme?

I want to make clear the VND16bil estimate. This figure is not investment
in the project. This is the sum calculated for realizing targets and
solutions of this scheme from now to 2020, and it will be combined with
related programmes and projects, including large scale projects like the
Reforming programme and textbooks, Building and improving the
qualification of teachers and education managers schemes. Thus the State
will not spend VND16tril on this scheme alone, or in a direct investment

The key point of this scheme, when defining funding for reform of teaching
and studying of foreign languages, is the rearrangement of investment
required for the task. Regarding the effectiveness of the project, I think
it will be difficult to immediately gauge the effectiveness and we will
have to wait till 2020.

The scheme has raised controversy on selection of a major foreign
language, is this because it focuses on English?

The most difficult thing for us while designing this scheme was the
selection of a major foreign language. The suggestion for English is based
on advice of international experts, after considering the specific
conditions of Vietnam. We only suggest giving priority to one foreign
language, not selecting one foreign language to teach.

Selecting a main foreign language only sets priority for investment. For
other foreign languages, there is no limitation.

The compilation group has set four specific goals and identified six
groups of basic solutions.

Under the scheme, MoET will implement the ten-year foreign
language-teaching programme and compile equivalent textbooks. The
programme is to be implemented in three phases: 2008-2009, 2010-2011 and

The programme will run from 3rd to 12th grade. Students will be evaluated
based on a Foreign Language Level testing system that allocates six

Primary students must reach the first grade; the second is for
intermediate students and third for high school students. Students at
universities that do not specialize in foreign languages will reach the
fourth grade, while tertiary level foreign language studies will obtain
the fifth level.

In 2007, all schools nationwide must define one of the following foreign
languages: English, Russian, French, or Chinese as the key foreign
language at that school.

The Prime Minister has requested MoET complete this scheme to submit it to
the Secretariat of the Central Party Committee and the National Assemblys
Standing Committee for consideration before

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