Being Oblivious to Vietnam’s Brainpower

American policy wonks this week are asking whether the US can compete globally in light of the OECD’s new PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores showing Asian teens out-distancing Westerners in math and science.  CNN and others suggested the ultimate insult to American education is that Americans have now fallen behind the Vietnamese.

That’s old news.  Actually the new scores merely document what anybody who has been paying attention to Vietnam has known for years:  Vietnamese children and teenagers have both the brainpower and the discipline to emerge later this century as a leading economy.  That assumes the country allows itself to unleash its potential.

The mean PISA score for 15-year-olds worldwide is 494 in math.  US  teens scored 481, ranking them 31st.  Shanghai was first at 613.  Vietnamese teens scored 511, ranking them 15th among countries tested — ahead of most Western nations, including United Kingdom, France, Norway, Italy, and Spain .

In science,  Vietnamese students scored even better compared to their classmates elsewhere in the world.  The mean score is 501 worldwide — 497 for the US and 528 for Vietnam.  Only seven countries fared better than Vietnam: China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Estonia, and Finland.

In reading, the mean score was 496 worldwide — 498 for the US and 508 for Vietnam.

The new scores underscore the potential for Vietnam to accomplish in the 21st Century what Japan did in the 20th Century, emerging from economic obscurity to become one of the world’s leading economies.

It’s a story the Western world, and especially Americans, continue to ignore.  In fact, in reporting about the new PISA test scores, the New York City-based Wall Street Journal, as it typical of the newspaper that purports to keep American business leaders informed about global affairs, completely ignored the existence of Vietnam in its report and accompanying graphic.

Sooner or later, Americans will discover that Vietnam is the real story.

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2 responses to “Being Oblivious to Vietnam’s Brainpower

  1. Thanks for reporting about this! I was anticipating the PISA results to see how well Vietnam did. I knew the Vietnamese could do well because a lot of Vietnamese Americans like myself excel in school and Vietnam does well in international competitions like the Math Olympiad. Hopefully, the brainpower translates into economic and technological development for Vietnam.

  2. Hi Jeff & Lily,

    Upon reading this, I was extremely proud of my fellow students for doing so well, and followed this story up by reading almost all the coverage on it, including the original PISA report itself. What I liked most was that from domestic news sources, we Vietnamese fully acknowledge that although we did better than expected, we still have a lot to learn from other countries as well, I found this humble response to our success to be very sensible – we cannot afford to get complacent. There is an underlying problem though. Even though we do well on tests, I read something that is very true on “Tuổi Trẻ Newspaper” saying that although Vietnamese students can do well on tests, it does not translate to productive workers, and there is still a shortage of truly skilled workers. The quality of education and training still needs to improve if we are to catch up!

    For the time being however I’m extremely proud that being the poorest out of the 65 countries that took the PISA test, we came out with a very respectable ranking, as well as being one of the most ‘resilient’ student bodies in the world, defying economic hardship!

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