Helping Academic Dreams Come True in Vietnam: A Little Goes a Long Way

Fact #1:  In Vietnam, about one million students finish secondary school (i.e., junior high school) every year but public high schools can only accommodate 80% of that number.

Fact #2:  An estimated 200,000 students who failed one single high school entry exam have no other choice but to enroll in private schools. For students with economic difficulties, the high cost of tuition fees is a challenge.

Fact #3:  Poor students are likely to drop out of school due to high tuition fees at private schools.

In a country with a per capita income of just under $2,000 (2013) there are many opportunities to improve the lives of significant numbers of people with relatively small amounts of money – by international standards.  An education project funded by the World Bank and implemented by the East Meets West Foundation is a perfect example of this.  From 2010 to 2013, The Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid Program provided grants to 8,000 disadvantaged students in 12 of the poorest provinces in northern and central Vietnam to help them continue their studies at a private high school or vocational school.

While Vietnam’s educational system is changing and improving in some respects, it doesn’t offer many second chances or alternative education and training paths.  And like most educational systems it favors those who have over those who don’t.  In addition to addressing the issue of ability to pay, the next logical challenge is to improve the quality of what they’re paying for, i.e., the education and training that these young  people and many others are receiving at the nation’s high schools and vocational schools.  [The secondary school enrollment is 71% (2011).]

I look forward to seeing more of these types of programs with other sources of funding,  sponsors and arrangements, including public-private partnerships.

Follow this link to read the World Bank press release in English or Vietnamese.


The Creative Kid Project – Build Your Dream School

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  (Lao-tzu, 604 BC-531 BC)

The Creative Kid Project is an inspiring and much-needed program being organized and implemented by Vietnamese students and colleagues from Brown University.  Below is the description in its entirety.  My company, Capstone Vietnam, is proud to be a sponsor of this visionary project.  

The Project

Kids are creative by nature, but they need to see that they can affect change and be taken seriously by adults in order to fully develop their ideas. The Creative Kid Project seeks to help secondary school students use their innate creativity to improve one of the institutions they know best: school.

Most kids spend the majority of their time in school learning from teachers and socializing with each other; however, they are rarely given the opportunity to contribute to or shape their learning environments. The Creative Kid Project will push students to think critically about their education, the ways in which it could be made better, and it will help students to develop the skills and confidence to start implementing their ideas.

The Plan

This July, we will partner with Thuc Nghiem Middle-School, Hanoi to pilot The Creative Kid Project (CKP). Thirty 13-15-year-old students, selected by application from Hanoi middle schools, will come together for a 6-day program focusing on creative problem-solving skills. We hope to form a core team of young students (high school or university students) that could work directly with the kids as well as a team of experienced adult advisors to further develop this plan. This project is meant to serve as a proof-of-concept that, if successful, could continue to develop or spread in Hanoi as well as other cities.

The daily program will be divided into morning and afternoon sessions and the content and structure will be loosely based on the Vietnam Youth Forum, TEDx Youth, and Camp Rising Sun (in the U.S. and Denmark).  In the mornings, through mini-presentations and small-group activities, students learn soft skills, such as how to brainstorm or effectively organize a group. In the afternoon, groups of students work to apply new skills towards building specific proposals for their school. On the final day, students will present their proposal to their teachers and school administrations.

The core skills are as follows:

  1. Identifying Issues – framing problem, asking questions (why/why not), brainstorming (think big, think small, “think wrong”)
  2. Collaborating and Organizing Groups — building a team, leading and following
  3. Developing Plans — systems thinking, research skills, design thinking
  4. Engaging with Decision-Makers — approaching and communicating with adults
  5. Preparing Presentations — making concise arguments, designing, drawing, modeling
  6. Pitching Proposals — public speaking, persuasive communication

 These project modes are intended as parts of a toolkit that students can practice within the program and take with them to be effective and creative problem-solvers afterwards. We hope that students will absorb these skills and build the self-confidence to further develop and apply them throughout the rest of school and life.

The Team

We are a group of students from universities in Vietnam and the U.S. with a strong interest in education, child development, and unconventional thinking. With the support from the Watson Institute of International Studies – Brown University and the Louise August Jonas Foundation , we hope to create a meaningful summer project for kids.

Linh Dao is an International Development major who loves kids, music and conversations. She is currently working with Dr. Martin Gardiner at Brown to research the influence of music education on the cognitive development of preschool children. Before Brown, she helped to organize the first Vietnam Youth Forum and studied at the Mahindra United World College of India, an international high school focused on teaching students to be global change-makers.

Evan Schwartz is studying Education and Political Economy and is a leader of a group called The Brown Conversation, which seeks to do the same for university students as The Creative Kid Project would do for younger students. He is from the U.S. and was a three-time participant in the Camp Rising Sun international summer leadership program and a visiting counselor during three other summers. As this is his first trip to Vietnam, Evan will serve primarily as an advisor while he tries to learn as much as he can about Vietnam’s history, culture, education system and, in particular, food.  (Here’s a 29 June post by Evan on Global Conversation entitled Maybe the Premises Are Wrong – Bustle, Bánh Mì, and Big Questions.) 

Suong Tran is a rising senior, economics major and mass communication minor at Washington and Lee University. She was a co-founder of the Fun Recycle project, which helped raise awareness of recycling to protect the environment through fun educational activities for kids.

Trang Nguyen is a junior at Foreign Trade University, majoring in International Economics and Business. She was an active member of English Club at Foreign Trade University and has many experiences in organizing events, including workshops and competitions for English learners. She has also worked with children on various occasions as teaching assistant and volunteer.

Hoa Nguyen is a rising sophomore, majoring in Applied Mathematics-Economics at Brown University. She loves interacting with children, and she has worked with children in a variety of tutoring schemes and projects. Before Brown, she was a recipient of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) Scholarship and the founder of a creative fundraising scheme for autistic children called “Hands Up For Autism” in Singapore.

Broward College in Vietnam

Broward College, based in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, is one of the larger and more internationally active community colleges in the US.  It has an enrollment of 70,000 students and ranks 40th on the Open Doors 2011 list of community colleges that host international students with 491.  Most of its international students – not included in the Open Doors stats – are enrolled in Broward programs in five (5) countries in Asia and South America. 

Broward, through local partners, offers associate degree programs in Ecuador, Peru, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.  Each of these programs permits students to transfer to Broward or another foreign (e.g., US, Australia, Singapore) institution of higher education at any time. 

The college awards credits and provides official transcripts for students enrolled in each of these programs.  As its website notes, Broward’s SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditation extends only to the Broward College academic programs at these five sites, not to the institutions themselves.

Program in Vietnam

The Vietnamese American Vocational Training College (VATC) is Broward’s international affiliate in Ho Chi Minh City, acquired by Blackhorse Asset Management.  The goal is to offer a comparable US community college experience in terms of admission procedures, facilities, academic and career advising and teaching.  As David More, Broward’s associate vice president for international education, noted, “Unlike with universities which just cooperate in international programs with international schools, Broward College Vietnam will assure students of first-class facilities and programs of a U.S. international college in order that after two years of studying in major with AA or AS degrees, students can be well-equipped to work or going for a two-year-transfer in the U.S., Australia or Singapore.”

High School Completion Programs in Washington State: Off to a “Running Start”

It is well-known that the majority of Vietnamese students begin their US higher education at a community college (two-year school) as a gateway to a four-year college or university to complete their bachelor’s degree. 

A community college program in Washington state that allows student to earn a Washington high school diploma and a university transfer associate degree in just two years, is all the rage among Vietnamese students and parents.  Green River Community College, for example, which calls this program High School Completion Plus, highlights the key advantages on its website:  Save Time and Money, Earn Dual Degrees and Fast Track

In addition to saving time and money, killing two birds with one stone, so to speak, high school completion programs enable students to make a smooth linguistic and cultural adjustment and better prepare them for study at a four-year college or university.  For Vietnamese parents of means who cannot afford an overseas boarding school (40-50k per year) these programs are a cost-effective and attractive option for their children to obtain a quality education, something that is in short supply at home.  There are about 22 Washington community colleges that actively recruit international students.   

High School Completion Programs & Student Visas

Based on my experience, consular officers set the bar a bit higher for those who wish to participate in these programs.  The student must be able to explain why s/he is transferring from a Vietnamese high school (in some cases a talented and gifted school) to a high school completion program in the US and what her/his long-term plans are.  The legislation (PDF) on which the high school completion program is based was enacted by the Washington State Legislature in March 1990 and updated in September 2011. 

Vietnamese Students & Washington State

According to the Open Doors 2011 Fact Sheet for Washington (PDF), Vietnam ranks 3rd among all places of origin with 9.4% of total international student enrollment in that state of 17,811, which amounts to 1674 students.  This amounts to just over 11% of total Vietnamese enrollment at US colleges and universities in 2010/11.   

At Home in Việt Nam

This is the name of a blog created by Becky Gordon, an English teacher in the School Year Abroad (SYA) program in Hanoi.  As she writes in the introduction, “this monthly blog will chronicle the students’ lives in Viet Nam outside the SYA classroom. A process of sharing and peer-editing in their English class will precede all posts thereby creating an individual and collective narrative. Travel-journalist Tom Miller said “The finest travel writing describes what’s going on when nobody’s looking.” May these young writers seek out and find their moments to see, with new eyes, what no one else sees. May they write their stories with sensitivity and passion. And may you, our readers, enjoy imagining their Viet Nam.”

Since there are fewer than 700 US students in Vietnam and most are university students who participate in short-term programs, the SYA Vietnam program is very unique.  A group of 15 young Americans from high schools around the US arrived on 1 September 2011 and will spend the academic year in Vietnam.  4 of the 15 students are from public schools and the others are from private, including boarding and day schools.  Ms. Gordon describes them as “members of host families, interns at various community organizations, students on a university campus and participant-observers in a foreign culture and society.”   

 As the SYA website notes, the program “was founded in 1964 by Phillips Academy in Andover (Massachusetts, USA) and is now supported by a consortiu,m including top independent schools across the country.  School Year Abroad (SYA) is the only secondary-level program which allows students to live with a European or Asian family for an entire academic year while earning U.S. graduation credits and preparing for selective U.S. colleges and universities.”  In addition to Vietnam, there are SYA programs in China, France, Italy, and Spain.  (SYA’s 2010 operating revenue and expenses were $12,599,371 and $13,393,738, respectively.)

As you may have guessed, this potentially life-changing experience does not come cheap.  In 2011-2012, total expenses, including tuition and fees, academic counseling, medical insurance, public transportation to and from school, school trips, room, board, laundry, books and standardized testing fee, international airfare and personal spending money came to over $50,000.

US and Intel Invest in Engineering Education in Vietnam

A couple of years ago Intel Vietnam had recruited just 40 qualified employees out of the 3,000 for its recruitment plan to 2010. The company reported that it lacked qualified engineers, technical team leaders and technicians. This is a common complaint among employers and shouldn’t come as a surprise given Vietnam’s current stage of development and a higher education system struggling to catch up with the economy.

Since Intel can’t afford to wait for Vietnam’s universities to produce graduates prepared to work in an international-standard environment, which they will in due course, and it is a company with considerable resources (Intel reported second-quarter revenue of $10.8 billion, up 34 percent year-over-year), it has followed a logical course: 1) create its own pipeline by helping a select group of Vietnamese universities, future feeder schools, upgrade the quality of instruction and infrastructure; and 2) set up a scholarship program for promising young engineering students who will study in the U.S. and return to Vietnam to work for Intel.

In the first instance five Vietnamese universities, including

were chosen to be part of a three-year program to improve the quality of their engineering programs. The $2.5 million higher engineering education alliance program is being implemented by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Arizona State University (ASU), and Intel, which is contributing $1.5 million to the project. The first group of lecturers traveled to the U.S. this past summer for a six-week summer course in both hard and soft skills with a focus on applied learning, teamwork and student engagement.

As part of the Intel Vietnam Study Abroad Program (program website, Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, PSU), Intel is sponsoring third-year engineering students from select universities to complete their Bachelor of Science degrees in Electrical or Mechanical Engineering at Portland State University (PSU). The program was launched in July 2010 with an intensive academic and living orientation in Portland, Oregon. This month the second cohort of Intel Vietnam Scholars (4.5 minute streaming video) began the first of two years of academic study at PSU. Upon graduation in June 2012, they will return to Vietnam to begin engineering careers with Intel in Ho Chi Minh City.  Here is an update on this year’s Intel Vietnam Scholars from PSU:  New Intel scholars arrive from Vietnam

The 2010 Intel Scholars gather in front of the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, their new home for the next year. Photo Courtesy of PSU

Other (much smaller) companies have blazed a similar trail.  Stayed tuned for a post about Enclave, an American-owned IT company in Danang.

The University of Chicago Summer Session ’10

Academically talented high school students from Vietnam with excellent English proficiency are strongly encouraged to consider participating in The University of Chicago’s 2010 Summer Session. 

Summer is a great time to be a student at The University of Chicago. Benefit from access to world-renowned professors and exceptional educational resources in a rigorous yet informal learning environment. Discover Chicago’s vast cultural, recreational, and social opportunities, from neighborhood street fairs and downtown music festivals to movies on the quads and afternoons on the beach.

The University of Chicago offers numerous opportunities to accomplished high school students. Tomorrow’s undergraduates can immerse themselves in the University of Chicago’s unique atmosphere as early as this summer. 

For information about The University of Chicago Summer Session ’10, please visit the websiteCapstone Vietnam will assist students wherever possible, but they must apply directly to the program.