My experience with Vietnam’s education system

This summer, I had the opportunity to teach English in Vietnam for three weeks. Such an  experience opened my eyes to a different way of perceiving education and how that perception affects the education process itself.

While classrooms in America view student participation as a key component, in Vietnam, it is rare to have class discussions and for students to ask teachers questions. This style of teaching is partly due to the large class sizes, which range from 30-45 students. The consequence of this teaching style is a high focus on memorization with less understanding of the origin, reason, or way a concept works.

Recently, there has been a push to incorporate more interactive methods like the ones we use in the United States in order to develop critical thinking. During my time teaching in Vietnam, I prioritized participation and critical thinking through group discussions, group games, and class presentations. I also had the privilege of sharing these methods with local teachers, who were eager to learn new strategies to promote student engagement. 

Along with communicating effective teaching methods, I observed elements central to education in Vietnam that were of incredible personal influence. There is a high dedication to studying in Vietnam because of the value that education holds for one’s future career and wealth. This dedication manifests itself by students regularly attending extra tutoring sessions. I would ask many of my students what they did after class and their answer would be that they went to another class. What did you do over the weekend? Study. Take note that I was teaching 12 to 14 year olds during their summer break.

Additionally, I noticed differences in how Vietnamese teachers are viewed compared to in America. In Vietnam, teachers are highly respected and appreciated by society, including by students. Students view teachers as an authority who possess knowledge and are taught to respect teachers from a young age. There is even a national holiday called Teacher’s Day on November 20. Students show their respect and gratitude by voicing their appreciation for the knowledge they have learned and giving gifts and flowers. Students, parents, and schools participate in the celebration.

Although I was not in Vietnam for Teacher’s Day, we did have a celebration at the end of our three-week program. I received handmade cards from my students, gifts from some parents, and gifts from the school. I can see how being celebrated like this once a year motivates teachers to continue in their career.

Vietnam’s Teacher’s Day differs from National Teacher Appreciation Day in the United States in the amount of gratitude shown to teachers and the community’s level of involvement. During conversations with the U.S. teachers I know, National Teacher Appreciation Day is underwhelming. Those on my team who are also teachers in the United States said that they would be overjoyed to receive half of the appreciation at home that we received overseas. 

A posture of respect toward teachers influences students’ likelihood of learning. In my experience, when students don’t perceive their teacher as someone who has knowledge to impart to them, it makes it much more difficult for students to receive that knowledge.

Respect for the teacher is worth noting because it not only makes a difference in the education of the student but in the quality of the teacher’s job. Data show a positive relationship between teacher respect and student achievement as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

According to the Global Teacher Status Index 2018, 44 percent of people in the United States think students respect their teachers. Additionally, the status of teaching as a profession was ranked by the general public at 48.7 (out of 100), while teachers perceived their own status at 37.1.

The Global Teacher Status Index 2018 states, “The way teachers are perceived by the public … affects the kind of job they do in teaching our children, and ultimately how effective they are in getting the best from their pupils in terms of their learning.”

According to research by McKinsey & Company, 38 percent of U.S. teachers ages 25 to 34 say they plan to leave the profession. I believe that part of the reason that teachers in Vietnam lead long careers and have pride in their profession is the high status that being a teacher holds in the eyes of the community.

With increased efforts from parents, students, and communities to show genuine gratitude for teachers, teachers will likely be more recharged and motivated for the next school year, and both educators and students will benefit as a result.

Ginger Gilbert is a student at Cedarville University and a current summer intern at American Experiment.