Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha has directed universities to make English the second language on campus.

The notion of “a second language” is understood as being one that is used in daily life and absorbed by students without specific English lessons. It is different from a “foreign language”, which is considered a subject where there is little chance of students using it in daily life.

In promoting English as a second language, students would be required to make all presentations and hold all discussions in English, while staff would speak English at all of their meetings.

To improve English quality at universities Mr. Nha asked them to improve the application of technology in training and managing students, and accelerate education globalization and international links in promoting the use of English.

He directed 61 universities, academies, and colleges under the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) to be pioneers in creating teaching standards that meet ASEAN standards. All standards must be announced widely to garner public opinion, and the ministry will then re-plan education and training units.

For remaining universities that are autonomous, Mr. Nha asked them to review and report on difficulties in making English the second language and suggest solutions. Non-autonomous universities must be active in learning from the experience of other institutions and prepare their own plans.

At the beginning of this year MoET announced that English would be a compulsory subject from Grade 3 in 2018 under its language plan to 2020. Accordingly, by 2018 all primary students from Grade 3 to 5 will have four English lessons a week. English is currently only an optional language in primary schools, with one or two lessons a week.

Decision No. 16 from MoET stipulates that students should have two English lessons a day or more than five a week.

MoET figures show that about one-tenth of primary school students do not study English because Vietnam lacks 7,700 English teachers. At the beginning of the year the ministry acknowledged that only one-third of current English teachers at primary schools meet teaching standards, as many are high school English teachers.

English is now a compulsory subject for students from Grade 10 onwards in high school. At the national high school graduation exams last year, marks in English were the worst among the eight compulsory subjects, averaging 2 to 3.5 out of 10.

The public was shocked when the results were announced, but students and teachers believe they reflect the actual situation. Former Deputy Minister of Education & Training, Professor Tran Xuan Nhi, is greatly concerned about the results because it makes Vietnam’s global integration more difficult.

Professor Nhi said that stipulations not allowing children to study English in kindergarten should be removed and teaching English from Grade 3 is not early enough because they can learn a new language quickly at a younger age. Primary school students in Singapore, he said, know from 1,000 to 2,000 English words. If he gave a Grade 3 student in Singapore the same test given in the national high school examinations in Vietnam, most would pass.