The Vietnamese education system: An overview

31.08.17
5 minute read
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One important decision, if you’re moving to Vietnam with family, is how to ensure that your children have the best possible education. The Vietnamese state schooling system has strengths in scientific subjects, where it has been above OECD averages for a decade - but falls somewhat short on reading and math. Only five years of education are compulsory under the Vietnamese system. Despite this, literacy levels are over 90%. Naturally, the standard of schools varies enormously, and there are many different factors to take into consideration when you're thinking about arranging schooling for your child. As an expat, you might also consider a private school, or an international school which teaches in English or another major world language.

If you’re considering your options, you can compare the standard of education in Vietnam with that available in your home country, with the PISA assessment framework from the OECD.

Moving with kids is a big deal, and you'll have many things to consider. But whether you’ve already got your Vietnamese work visa, and have your move fully planned - or are just starting to think about life overseas, it helps to know a little about the education options in Vietnam.

Here is a quick guide to get you started.

The Vietnamese education system

Education in Vietnam is arranged on a national level by the Ministry of Education and Training.

Pre-school or kindergarten (which is optional) is offered from the age of around 18 months, in Vietnam, with compulsory schooling from the age of six. Only five years of primary education are considered mandatory. After primary school, children move on to lower secondary education (Trung học cơ sở) and upper secondary education (Trung học phổ thông).

Pre-school Optional for children aged between 18 months and five years oldFees may be payable, and kindergartens are more commonly found in major cities
Primary School Compulsory from age six to 11 for all childrenEducation at primary level is free
Trung học cơ sở/ Trung học phổ thông(Secondary School) Secondary education is divided into lower and upper programmesNot compulsory

Pre-School

Pre-school in Vietnam isn't compulsory, so if you want your child to attend you have to enrol directly with the school you have chosen. Lists of schools in your area can be found at the local education office. Places are available in kindergartens which are mainly in large cities, for children aged between around 18 months and five years old, with fees usually payable. Many international schools also offer pre-K education, for very young children, at a cost.

Primary School

From the age of six, it’s compulsory to attend primary school in Vietnam. Although the compulsory schooling lasts for only a short five years, it's well attended with over 95% of children enrolling for at least some of the primary years. This stage of schooling is provided free of charge.

Primary school lasts for five grades, and the curriculum is broad, covering basic skills, physical education and Vietnamese language. Moral studies are also included in the primary syllabus. Usually foreign languages don't begin until secondary level.

Secondary School (Trung học cơ sở/ Trung học phổ thông)

Secondary education in Vietnam is split into two programmes - lower secondary (Trung học cơ sở) runs for students aged 11 to 15, and upper secondary (Trung học phổ thông) caters to students who have graduated the lower programme and want to stay in education until age 18. Students can choose to study either a science based programme, or an arts and humanities programme. At this age, there's usually the option of studying a second language, which might be English, French or Chinese.

As well as the regular secondary schools, there are specific schools for gifted students. Competition for these schools is extremely fierce.

This level of education isn't considered compulsory in Vietnam, and students must take an entrance exam to get a place. The curriculum is demanding and reforms have been suggested to make it less pressurised for students.

What’s the typical school calendar and hours?

The school year in the Vietnamese state system runs from August or September through to May or June, although the exact dates vary slightly according to the specific school preferences. The year is split into two semesters. Usually schools run Monday to Saturday, with students attending six days a week, but only for half of each day. This is partly to alleviate crowding, as the school can effectively run a shift system, with some children attending in the morning, and different students coming for the afternoon.

It’s worth noting that this calendar applies to state schools only - in private and international schools the western standard calendar, with a long summer break and several weeks vacation at Christmas, is far more likely to be adopted.

What’s the cost of education?

There are some fairly low fees charged for education under the state system, for books and contributions for school equipment, as well as additional costs for uniforms, transport and school materials. If you don't choose the state system and decide to find a private international school, the costs are high.

Vietnam has a range of international schools, mainly in the major cities, teaching in English and other major world languages. International schools often use either the International Baccalaureate syllabus, a variant of the United States standard curriculum or use a curriculum and exam schedule from another country such as Britain or Australia. International schools are generally of a high standard, and therefore are typically competitive. You may find that testing and interviews are necessary to secure admission or be placed on a waitlist for a popular school.

Fees vary widely depending on the specific school and the programme they offer. Costs of anything from USD 10,000 to USD 20,000 a year aren't uncommon, covering tuition, but usually not school transport or lunches. It’s also worth noting that international schools typically levy other fees like registration and admin fees, which are one-off or annual payments in addition to the tuition costs and a security deposit.

In most cases, education in the state and private sector will come at a cost, so whichever route you decide is best for your family, you want to save as much money as possible. If you’re funding your child’s education from your account back home, consider using TransferWise to get the real exchange rate and cut out expensive international bank transfer fees.

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