Ethnic minority children in Vietnam score much lower on mathematics and reading tests than do ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) children. This paper examines the acquisition of mathematics and reading skills in Vietnam, using the Young Lives household survey data that were collected in 2002 and 2006. While further research is needed, the analysis in this paper leads to three important conclusions.
First, these disparities are already very large by age 5, i.e. even before children start primary school.
Second, language appears to be an important factor, as ethnic minority children whose mother tongue was Vietnamese had much higher scores than those whose mother tongue was an ethnic minority language. Note that all tests were administered in whatever language the children wanted to take them in, so the poor performance of ethnic minority children on these tests is not simply due to being forced to take the test in Vietnamese.
Third, Blinder-Oaxaca decompositions offer some explanation of the Kinh-ethnic minority gap in test scores, especially for the Older Cohort children (who were 12 years old when tested in 2006). The higher per capita expenditure of Kinh households explains about 0.2 to 0.3 standard deviations of their gap in test scores, out of a total gap of 1.3 to 1.5 standard deviations. Higher parental education among Kinh children generally explains about 0.3 standard deviations of the gap for both the Younger Cohort (who were age 5 when tested) and the Older Cohort. Among the Older Cohort, more time spent in school, less time spent working, and higher levels of nutrition each explain about 0.1 standard deviations of the gap in the mathematics score, and more years of schooling among Kinh children explains about 0.3 standard deviations of the gap for the PPVT score.