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Beyond the basics: Access and equity in the expansion of post-compulsory schooling in Vietnam

Wed, March 28, 11:30am to 1:00pm, Hilton Reforma, Floor: 2nd Floor, Don Diego 4 Section B


Human capital development through the relatively equitable provision of high quality basic education has been central to Vietnam’s strong and relatively inclusive growth since reunification and especially in recent years. However, for the future, Vietnam is increasingly concerned to avoid a ‘middle-income trap’ in economic development terms and accordingly is focusing on ensuring access to post-basic education and to the higher levels of skills which this stage of education potentially provides. As much as the country is concerned to ‘move up the value-chain’ in terms of production, development and education policies assert a need for advancement in terms of knowledge production and exchange, in order to reap the benefits of the burgeoning ‘knowledge economy’ both in the South East Asia region and globally.

Nonetheless, at present, compulsory education in Vietnam ends with the lower secondary phase. Beyond this, education is ‘rationed’ both by entrance examinations and, to some extent, by user charges (fees). Specific policies are in place, however, to strengthen access (lowering academic entry criteria in some cases) and reduce cost-barriers among the most disadvantaged pupils, thereby mitigating the inequities which would otherwise result from unequal opportunities.

While Vietnam does not currently aim to ‘universalise’ upper secondary education, the country’s ESSDP (Education Sector Strategic Development Plan) (2011-2020) aims to ensure that 80% of Vietnamese young people within the relevant age group complete upper secondary education by 2020. This aim to reach 80% rather than to universalise, which means that upper secondary schools will continue to select pupils by entrance examination. This raises important questions of equity concerning the nature of ‘rationing’ of places, relating to the extent to which such processes can be ‘fair’ to pupils’ whose ‘opportunities to learn’ earlier in life have been unequal.

Using unique longitudinal household and school data from the Young Lives survey, we therefore examine the extent to which the determination of access to upper secondary education in Vietnam is equitable. We employ regression modelling to identify the characteristics associated with successful entry into upper secondary school among a large cohort of pupils on whom detailed background data is available. We proceed to examine and model the extent to which, conditional on successful entry into upper secondary school, the learning outcomes achieved in Grade 10 are indeed equitable. Specifically, we examine the relationships between learning outcomes and pupils’ background characteristics and their prior learning attainment (in Grade 5).

We conclude with reflections on the implications of these findings for the provision of more equitable access and learning outcomes beyond basic education in Vietnam, in order to meet the needs of the twenty-first century economy.


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