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Alternative education approaches proving popular

Released at: 08:01, 22/04/2018

Alternative education approaches proving popular

Photo: Viet Tuan

A range of new education methods have found their way to Vietnam over recent years.

by Ngoc Lan

Modern Montessori International (MMI), a Singaporean company specializing in early childhood education, opened its largest overseas pre-school campus at the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) in southern Binh Duong province in mid-2017. The new campus was built with initial investment of $2 million and is the company’s first in Vietnam directly owned by MMI Singapore. According to Mr. Steven Kho, Country Manager of MMI Vietnam, they intend to almost double student numbers to 170 by September.

MMI Vietnam is one of many schools offering the Montessori method of education. For the past ten years, people in Vietnam have begun to refer to Montessori as a great educational method for children, especially those aged six years or less. A wide range of investment models for education in accordance with the new method have been developed at all levels to meet demand among parents. 

New programs

Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. In traditional education, adults decide what children need to learn and the ability to retain and reproduce information is used as a measure of academic success. The teacher is the active provider of information and children are passive receivers. In Montessori classrooms, meanwhile, children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process.

While parents in Hanoi know about Montessori schools such as Sakura Montessori School, Sunrise Kids, and MON Montessori School, those in Ho Chi Minh City are more familiar with Montessori International School of Vietnam, WonderKids Montessori School, and others. The method has also spread to other cities and provinces, such as Hai Phong, Binh Duong, Quang Ninh, and Thai Binh.

Ms. Le Minh Trang, a 29-year-old in Hanoi’s Nam Tu Liem district, has a daughter studying at Sakura Montessori in the Dich Vong new urban area in Cau Giay district. “She is just over two years old but I can see she has become much more independent after studying at Sakura,” she said. “She likes to be independent rather than asking for my help, singing and reading poems she learned in class.”

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is also a popular education program in Vietnam at the higher education level. Its curricula are based on the idea of educating students in those four specific disciplines with an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications. 

To develop the method, during the 2016-2017 academic year the British Council in Vietnam worked with the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) to implement a pilot project entitled “Applying the UK STEM Approach in the Vietnam Context in 2016-2017”. The project featured 15 State-owned and private secondary schools and high schools in five provinces in the north of Vietnam. Ms. Tran Phuong Nga, an eleventh grader at The Olympia School, one of the 15, said that when there is a problem that cannot be understood it is explained by experiments, as a way to inspire the students. “If you have the money, you can buy the materials to conduct the experiments,” she said. “And if you don’t have much money, you can take advantage of older equipment,” she said.

On May 4 last year, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued a directive on tackling the challenges posed by Industry 4.0, including solutions for enhancing STEM education in high schools.

Besides Montessori and STEM, another method providing knowledge in social sciences and soft skills training has also received a great deal of attention from parents and students in recent times. These life skills training centers, summer camps, and army training camps are well-suited and professionally-invested by the private sector and have attracted large numbers of students. For example, established in 2011, the Asia Pacific Talent Youth Training Center (ATY) has conducted 438 major and minor programs, including military semesters and more intensive training such as Hi! Teacher, Teen Leadership Training, and Living Strong, among others. 

Mr. Luong Dung Nhan, Deputy Director of Training at ATY, told VET that modern life significantly reduces the amount of time parents spend with their children, and children’s study time also accounts for a very high proportion of their lives. “This leads to a lack of opportunities for children to explore their own abilities, to understand and master their emotions, to handle the diverse needs of life,” he said. “This is the main reason we have introduced such programs.” 

Solid prospects

Education has always been given great importance in Vietnam and education development is listed among the top seven foreign investment promotion categories in the country. Demand for sending children to an international learning environment for a higher quality education is on the rise, making the market more attractive for investors. 

Recent research from Taylor Nelson (TNS) showed that the highest expenditure by Vietnamese people is on education, accounting for 47 per cent of the total. Families are clearly increasing their investment in the education of their children, making the private education market quite robust. “Parents are now choosing private schools for their children because they want a greater choice of good education programs,” Ms. Nguyen Thi Kieu Oanh, Chairwoman of the Canadian International School, told VET.

Nearly 60 per cent of Vietnam’s population of some 95 million were under 35 years of age as at 2017. With more disposable income than in previous years, young Vietnamese, with the support of their parents, are eager to obtain the skills and knowledge required by employers. Companies, meanwhile, are taking advantage of this newly-skilled and highly-educated population.

Mr. T Chandroo, CEO and Chairman of the MMI Group, told local media that the reason behind the expansion in Vietnam was the market’s enormous potential, with the ratio of the population aged below 35 promising current and future demand for early childhood education. “Rising income levels and growing affluence have also led to an increase in young professionals with higher purchasing power who wish to provide their children with the best learning opportunities,” he said.

Investors can also find new opportunities from new government policy. Education institutions registered to operate for less than 20 years are no longer obliged to build their own facilities and are allowed to rent suitable schools, buildings or workshop areas for at least five years. Investors are also allowed to expand their brand by opening other campuses in the same city or elsewhere.

It’s also worth noting that Vietnam remains one of the best destinations for foreign investment in Southeast Asia. In an interview with local media, Ms. Tran Thi Phi Yen, Executive Director of the IvyPrep Institute, offering pre-university training under US standards in Vietnam, said the country’s political stability and economic growth are behind the increasing investment in education. “The capital businesses invest in the sector is still modest compared to other sectors, so education is a fertile market for investors seeking opportunities,” she said.

Figures provided by the Ministry of Planning and Investment’s Foreign Investment Agency show that Vietnam had attracted some $761.4 million in foreign direct investment (FDI) via 386 projects in the education and training sector as at February. Demand for a high-quality education is reaching new heights, providing favorable opportunities for foreign investors to enter the market. 

Obstacles to overcome

Education is an attractive sector for investment in Vietnam given the country is in need of international-standard learning environments. Though programs like Montessori, STEM and others are quite attractive, they must address a host of challenges, including the fact that they’re a new concept. 

Mr. Nhan from ATY said that while there are many new programs available, the number of students attending is still low, due to educational models like military semesters being extracurricular activities that can only be attended during the student’s free time. 

Fees are also a matter of concern. “I have two children. My family’s monthly income is about VND30 million ($1,300), so all our spending must be carefully calculated,” said Ms. Trang. Monthly pre-school fees at MMI Vietnam are around $600, for example, which are out of reach for most middle-income families. 

Though investors can find new opportunities offered by new government policy, there are also some legal issues that need to be considered. According to Decree No. 73/2012ND-CP, dated November 15, 2012, only foreign children can attend international pre-schools. Vietnamese children under five years old are not allowed to enjoy any form of general education provided by foreign investors. Regarding teacher qualifications, the decree stipulates that foreign teachers must have at least five years of experience before they can teach at Vietnamese education institutions or at foreign-invested schools, colleges and universities.

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