Tag Archives: Vietnam education

Vietnam’s Stark Choice: East or West

For decades, Vietnam has walked a tightrope between East and West, as Communist Party factions jostled over whether to align more with China or more with the US.  China’s latest aggression in the East/South China Sea escalates the skill challenge — and may even threaten the survival of Vietnam’s ruling acrobats.

Although Vietnam has an ugly history with both countries, the pro-China faction has generally prevailed in Vietnam’s government.  Vietnam has evolved as a Chinese-style state-controlled capitalistic autocracy.  China has been allowed to exploit Vietnamese natural resources.  China dominates trade between the two countries.  And China even gets favorable treatment in Vietnam’s schools that teach about the horrors of the American War but gloss over (or don’t mention) the more recent border war of Chinese aggression.

But there’s evidence this week that the dynamic may be changing.  The Chinese embassy in Hanoi was the setting for the largest anti-China protests in recent history, and the Vietnamese government permitted it.  Vietnamese officials worldwide have been loudly protesting China’s contention that it owns the South China and all the resources within it — and Vietnam’s diplomats have been working overtime to line up supporters, including the US.

Meanwhile, China may not be the biggest problem the ruling party faces in Vietnam.  A bigger problem may be its own citizenry: nearly 100 million mostly young, restless, entrepreneurial people who are increasingly enamored of Western culture, products, and political ideas.  Many of them are highly educated, blogging, Facebook-users who are watching closely to see whether their government is capable of handling China.




Is Vietnam’s Economy Doomed?

Japanese economist Kenishi Ohno says Vietnam has fallen into the feared middle income trap — perpetual stagnation after stalling on the past to prosperity.
He says the country faces a social crisis because it failed to heed warnings six years ago.  Vietnam now faces:

  • Slowing economic growth
  • Low investment efficiency
  • Rising production costs
  • Little improvement in competitiveness

Ohno says productivity has grown 3% annually while wages rose 26%.  Competitiveness has dropped at an annual rate of 23%.

Vietnamese economist Nguyen Minh Phong says it’s too soon to conclude his country has fallen into the middle income trap.  He contends the government deliberately slowed Vietnam’s growth to enable economic restructuring to take place.

To stay out of the middle income trap, Phong says Vietnam needs to:

  • Prioritize development of information technology
  • Reduce exports of natural-resources
  • Support enterprises with market research
  • Explore niche markets
  • Help small enterprises get loans
  • Expand bilateral trade agreements
  • Reform education and training

Vietnam also needs to follow the examples of Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea — all of which cultivated the private sector on their way to full economic development.

For several years, it has become increasingly obvious that Vietnam’s escape from economic mediocrity depends on the capacity of its own government to surrender control and permit the private sector to flourish.




Just How Determined Are the Vietnamese?

In the 20th Century, the West learned a lot about the tenacity of the northern Vietnamese, whose determination repelled the American military and drove out European colonialists.  Now comes a story from a village near Dien Bien Phu, where France surrendered in 1954, that shows the enduring power of Vietnamese will.


Delivering a bagged and dry pupil

When recent storms caused flooding in Dien Bien Province, a raging river took out the suspension bridge that separated Sam Lang village  in the far northwestern corner of Vietnam from its schoolhouse.  Anyone else would have postponed classes, but not the Vietnamese.

Vietnamese newspaper Tuoi Tre published pictures showing what happened next:  The father of one of the children grabbed a large plastic bag, instructed his child to get into the bag, and then swam across the river with the bag to deliver his child to primary school.  Then he returned and repeated the process for every child in the village.

The children arrived safe and dry.  School went on as usual.  Despite nature’s inconvenience, the children of Sam Lang walked a day further on the road to prosperity.  If you think this event showed unusual commitment to education, you don’t know the Vietnamese.  




Vietnam’s Most Treasured Import: Cash

More than five million Vietnamese people do not live in Vietnam.  They migrated to 100 nations around the globe, and include 500,000 Vietnamese guest workers in other countries.  Together, at year’s end, they will have sent $11 billion in cash back to relatives in their native country.  That includes nearly $5 billion sent to Ho Chi Minh City alone.

Most of the money comes from the West — especially Europe and the US, top_site_international_businesshome to 1.5 million Vietnamese Americans, many of whom are affluent.  The cash is transferred through banks, such as Dong A Money Transfer (that received $1.5 billion in 2013) and Sacomrex, which expects the total to be $1.7 billion, (15% more than it had expected).

World Bank says Vietnam is one of the top ten countries receiving remittances from overseas.  Others include India ($71 billion), China ($60 billion), and the Philippines ($26 billion).

The cash remittances are a cultural statement about the intensity of Vietnamese family connections.  The money significantly raises the standard of living of relatives in Vietnam.  And it helps build Vietnam’s social infrastructure — such as access to education and health — family by family.

The $11 billion inflow represents nearly 8% of Vietnam’s GDP.  It strengthens and widens the bridge between Vietnam and the US.  It helps explain the warm reception that often surprises first-time American visitors to Vietnam.

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.

Chess and Vietnam’s Promising Brainpower

A Chess News Agency report this week speaks volumes about the potential of one of the world’s most dynamic frontier markets:  22-year-old Vietnam grandmaster Le Quang Liem won the World Blitz Championship, not only establishing his country as a global chess power but also calling attention to its brainpower.

Along with the gold medal, Liem’s defeat of the silver and bronze medalists from Ukraine earned him $40,000 in prize money.  He started playing chess 15 years ago, about the time Vietnam started gearing up to be a player in the global economy.

The achievement at the chess table is the latest of many signs Vietnam’s population of nearly 100 million has the capacity to be a global economic leader.  It remains to be seen whether the country will cultivate its human capital — or stifle its people’s creative energy.

Unleashing Vietnam’s brainpower and creative energy depends on development of social infrastructure — especially health and education.  that will require, as one wry Hanoi visitor from the countryside observes, less attention to gleaming skyscrapers that adorn the capital city and a greater focus on better schools and hospitals.

The Perils of Being a Vietnamese Child

Last week eight schoolgirls drowned in Vietnam, where children are valued and loved but more vulnerable than their peers elsewhere.  Six 13-year-olds were swimming in a river on the South Central coast when one of them cried for help and her friends tried to rescue her; the same day, two 10-year-olds were swept away by strong river current 600 miles to the north.

Alliance for Safe Children says Vietnamese children are twice as likely to drown than average for the world.  Vietnam’s vast river systems and coastline invite tragedy, and swimming isn’t part of the school curriculum.

Children in Vietnam face other perils as well, some outgrowths of poverty and others related to their country’s exposure to the Western world.  Among these are exploitation by employers, nutritional deficiencies, child trafficking, educational roadblocks, and unexploded war ordinance.

Nutrition experts say 11% of Hanoi’s children younger than 11 are overweight.  Thanks to fast food and soda, they consume up to 125% of their caloric need but just 60% of calcium required for their physical development.  Their diets are also deficient in iron and iodine.

Education experts point out many poor families in Vietnam keep their children out of school because they can’t afford the uniforms, textbooks, and fees — or the tuition for high school.  Many children end up wandering the streets selling lottery tickets.

In some parts of Vietnam, children are at risk because of previously unexploded war ordnance, which has killed or injured more than 100,000 farmers and children in fields over the past 40 years.

As with all countries, Vietnam’s promise is its children.  Vietnam’s challenge is keeping them healthy and safe.