This paper utilises Young Lives longitudinal data on two cohorts of 3,000 children in Vietnam, as well as a wealth of official Government data, to present a broad picture of the education sector in the country, focusing on inequality.
- Pre-primary and primary school attendance: at age 5, over 10 per cent of both cohorts never attend preschool or other schools, and less than 10 per cent attend private preschools. Over 95 per cent of the Younger Cohort started Grade 1 in the year they turned 6, and another 4 per cent started by age 7. At the primary level, the rate of progress to next grade is close to a hundred per cent, except the first graders. The rate of overage for primary school students is relatively low for the Younger Cohort.
- Middle childhood and private tuition: For basic education, an absolute majority of students go to public schools. However, at ages 8 and 12, nearly two thirds of the Younger Cohort took extra classes, compared to slightly over 50 per cent of the Older Cohort seven years previously. For both cohorts, the children of wealthy households are much more likely than the children of the poor to attend extra classes, which are more popular in cities than in the uplands and remote areas. The infrastructure of primary schools varies widely between geographic areas, especially in the availability of libraries, computers, and internet access. However, there are few differences in terms of class teacher characteristics, such as qualifications (having a university degree), teaching experience, and their performance in maths and Vietnamese tests.
- Educational outcomes and socio-economic status: The gender gap in education of Vietnam is quite moderate, and where it exists, it is often that girls perform slightly better than boys. Geography, mother’s level of education, and wealth/poverty all make a difference in all the educational outcomes, where the least vulnerable group perform better than the most vulnerable.
- Secondary and tertiary education – transition and dropout: At age 15, over 80 per cent of children have completed lower secondary education, and less than 4 per cent are still in basic education schools. Mother’s level of education is the most powerful predictor of the outcomes in child’s completion of lower secondary education. At age 19, nearly 60 per cent have completed upper secondary education, 10 per cent are still in general education school, and over 10 per cent drop out before completing basic education. The gap between the least and the most vulnerable groups is as wide as 64 per cent in completion of upper secondary education. Having completed upper secondary, over one third of the Older Cohort went on to a tertiary education institution, with slightly more going to university than to technical/professional institutes. Wealth, mother’s level of education and the child’s cognitive achievement are the most important determinants of attending schools at the tertiary level.
The findings suggest that policymakers need to address the following issues:
- While the majority of the children attended preschool before entering Grade 1, about half of the children spent less than two years in the preschool programme; this might contribute to the disadvantage of ethnic minority children, as these children need enough time to learn Vietnamese, which is the only medium of instruction, but not their mother tongue.
- The demand for jobs that require tertiary education qualifications is thin and highly uncertain. There is a large mismatch between the education aspirations the children had at age 12, and the real economy that they may enter at age 19.
- The significant gap between the least and most vulnerable groups implies a serious danger of regional disparities in socio-economic development translating into the next generation. This requires consistent commitment to pursue inclusive growth to keep vulnerable children from lagging further behind.