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According to Minister Nguyen Minh Hien, Vietnamese education has embarked on the new school year of 2005-2006 with four 'debts' left over from previous years, these being shortcomings in training quality, demanding examinations, an overload in the curriculum at all school levels and unhealthy practices. In the context of the newly revised Education Law the first debt, of training quality, has become more and more challenging with the recent abolition of the junior high school graduation examination (which was previously held at the end of year 9). Enhancing or even just maintaining the training quality at this level of education has been an apparently difficult task to fulfil. From now on graduates from junior high schools are admitted to senior schools based on results achieved in another entrance examination, which is to be decided upon by local authorities in accordance with the accommodation capacity of the senior high schools within each province. As indicated by concerned officials responsible for this process, this examination might lead to a boom in 'coaching centres' and students will be unnecessarily pushed to take up classes after school as has occurred in the past. Likewise, some educational experts suggest an alternative option of using grade results from previous years as a basis for selection. Others seem to be much more concerned with possible 'unhealthy practices', which might be used as an 'indirect way to increase the incomes' of those involved! For these reasons, the senior high school entrance examination does not appear to be a better alternative to the old system.
Although 'enhancing the teaching and learning quality', as has been pointed out in Resolutions 37 and 40 by the National Assembly, has been prioritised in the education sector's agenda, the National Assembly's Committee on Culture and Education for Children and Youth recently concluded that 'training quality and its efficiency remains low'. Such controversial issues as unlicensed private tutoring, cheating in studies and examinations, grade inflation and vendoring, unauthorized charges on students or 'credit rendering' have become all too obvious in educational establishments. There is a great need to reconstruct the curriculum framework at all levels of schooling from year 1 to 12; to standardize the training process, giving attention to time allotment to content for all key learning areas, to textbook compilation and teacher assessment. The highest hope of all this is to bring Vietnam's training quality close to that of its neighbours in the region and elsewhere in the world. All this reform will, according to a top leader of the sector, lead to a re-engineering of the existing teaching staff. Within the framework of Resolution 40, it is planned to reduce the teaching force by about 80,000 teachers in 2005 with the screening process to be grounded on such criteria as knowledge, skills and conduct. However, the details of such criteria have not yet been specified, and provincial departments will be hard pushed to conduct this burdensome task, which is regarded as 'a secret war' within the sector. While 'reform' has been a slogan at the tertiary level over the last five years, it is now becoming more urgent at the primary and secondary levels where human resources are, as ever, the key issue. Paying the debts in this new school year, the educational sector is launching a 'revolution in screening its existing staff', reopening the controversies the sector has faced in recent years.
WATCHPOINT: In the planning for, and reconstruction of, the educational sector - standardizing the curriculum, improving training quality and fostering human resource development - is a top-down or a bottom-up approach the most appropriate? Will the sector continue to carry 'bad debts' by the end of this school year? To what extent will authorities be successful in calming down public opinion on these critical issues?
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