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date: 28 June 2022

Vietnamese Education and Neoliberal Policylocked

Vietnamese Education and Neoliberal Policylocked

  • Jim AlbrightJim AlbrightThe University of Newcastle

Summary

Any nation’s educational policies are forged in settlements that serve as a discursive frame, which is subject to inherent destabilizing tensions and contradictions bounded within identifiable historical and geographical periods. Vietnamese policymakers have viewed education as central to nation building, which was first realized through the forging of a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist educational settlement when independence was attained in 1946. Then a second settlement was achieved as part of its neoliberal Doi Moi policy pivot in the late 1980s, which has led to the nation’s global political, economic, and cultural integration. This pragmatic resetting, aimed at nation building through increased foreign investment and scientific and technical links with regional competitors and Western liberal democracies, swept aside past presumptions while retaining a strong one-party state.

Vietnam’s initial revolutionary educational settlement was forged in the years prior to 1945 and 1954. One of its achievements was the use of Vietnamese as the principal language of instruction in education. Pre-independence, in the late 1930s, mass education drives were important influences on this new policy. The French colonial regime was compelled to use Vietnamese for translation and communication, replacing Mandarin as the medium of instruction in schools and the language of the previous feudal civil service. One of the first acts as part of the revolutionary educational settlement initiated in 1945 was to proclaim Vietnamese as the official language of the nation, which was expanded to North Vietnam in 1954 and later consolidated in the nation’s reunification in 1975.

From its inception, Vietnam’s revolutionary educational settlement faced a legitimacy problem that undermined its nation-building agenda. It was mistakenly believed that economic advancement would follow revolutionary educational schooling. Voluntary mass education gave way to bureaucracy and careerism, and a traditional curriculum took hold; the Vietnamese state struggled to build and support schooling. A burgeoning young population meant it was difficult for state expenditures to meet the need for classrooms, qualified teachers, and quality instruction.

Faced with challenges that were exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Empire, in 1986 the Sixth National Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party broke with its previous policy frameworks. Termed “Doi Moi,” this “renovation” realigned its command to a market economy. Subsequent related educational reforms overhauled preschool, general vocational, and higher and postgraduate education. In a radical departure from its past, these reforms established a dual system of state-built, -operated, and -managed public and private schools.

Educational settlements are partial and tenuous. Just as there were tensions within its revolutionary educational policy settlement, so too the hegemonic nature of Vietnam’s current neoliberal consensus has its own stresses. Two are ongoing concerns about the quality of teaching and learning and the weight of a strong culture of centralism in decision making as an aspect of Vietnam’s revolutionary legacy.

Subjects

  • Educational Politics and Policy
  • Globalization, Economics, and Education
  • Education and Society
  • Educational History

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