Vietnamese students surprised the world recently when it was revealed that they outperformed many other advanced countries on the PISA exam. According to a recent BBC article, “the country’s 15-year-olds scored higher in reading, maths and science than many developed countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.”
News of this achievement has received a great deal of media attention, however in an effort to learn more about recent developments in the Vietnamese education system today we reached out to Duy Pham, former Deputy Director of the Center of Educational Measurement, of the Institute for Education Quality Assurance, at Vietnam National University, and curent doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Pham explained that while the PISA exam has caught the attention of an international audience, the people of Vietnam have been wrapped up in a dynamic debate around high school graduation exams and university entrance exams.
This year, the Vietnam Ministry of Education combined the high school graduation exam and the university entrance exam into one 4-day-long exam. This move came in response to concerns about student well-being and assessment validity. Many felt that students and families were suffering under the pressure of two separate exams. Also, private universities, which admit students who do not get selected for prestigious spots in public universities, felt that the old exam system was too challenging and resulted in the exclusion of too many students. These universities wanted to be able to admit a greater number of students but found that these students were not able to meet the high bar set by the old entrance exams. As Pham explained, “This year the pressure comes from many stakeholders, saying the university system blames the previous entrance exam of not being able to classify students in a way that allows them to select the right students.”
As the new exam was administered in the first week of July, there is no consensus on the new process. While the Ministry of Education has expressed satisfaction with the new system, educators, policymakers, and researchers are concerned that the new exams might be too difficult for the purposes of high school graduation, yet too easy for the purposes of university entrance. The question is how to find one assessment that meets the needs of all students and institutions.
Also, the question of pressure and fairness remains. Students can only take the new exam in one of the approximately 30 testing centers. These testing centers are located in big cities, which means that students from mountainous and rural areas need to travel with a parent or guardian and find accommodations for the duration of the exam. Under the old system, students could at least take the high school graduation exam in their own school settings.
For more information on this issue:
National exam for university, high school satisfies students – News VietNamNet http://buff.ly/1fQRVdu
One million students sit for national exams – News VietNamNet http://buff.ly/1fQRY9k
Volunteers swing into action for season of exams – News VietNamNet http://buff.ly/1fQS6FI
Vietnam school students and the exam of life in pictures http://buff.ly/1fQS8xe
Flashback: Volunteers devote themselves to helping Vietnam’s national exam contestants http://buff.ly/1OkqFiO
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