New project to improve learning on a large scale launches research in Vietnam

Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) - a new initiative aimed at conducting high-quality research to build evidence to enhance children’s learning throughout the world - announced today that it will begin work in Vietnam.

The £4.2 million, six-year undertaking will seek to understand how Vietnam “got it right” in creating an education system that has led its students to achieve learning levels exceeding those of their peers in far wealthier nations.

The project in Vietnam is one of four research endeavours being launched in countries throughout the world in order to shed light on ways to address a global learning crisis. Countries around the world have been remarkably successful in making progress toward universal primary schooling, but in many places, learning levels are poor, or have declined. As a result, even when children finish many years of schooling, they still lack basic maths and literacy skills. The RISE agenda emphasises the need to make changes that can provide children with the education they need to be successful adults in their local, national, and global communities.

Lant Pritchett, RISE Research Director, says on this point,

The fact that nearly every child is in school represents an enormous victory for humankind. Now that they are there, let’s continue that momentum to make sure that every child in school is learning. Vietnam is an incredible success story, and it is enormously important to understand how Vietnam produces high levels of learning success while facing many of the institutional and poverty-related challenges many other countries face.  

Research about the experiences of Vietnam offer the potential to inform policies that can help the other countries enhance students’ education. Many of the team involved are also Young Lives researchers and associates.

Vietnam’s achievements in primary and secondary education over the last two decades are extraordinary. Out of 65 countries, Vietnam ranked 17th in maths and 19th in reading – surpassing both the United States and the United Kingdom – in the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the worldwide scholastic performance measure of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Vietnam’s primary school completion rate is 97 percent, and its lower secondary enrolment rate is 92 percent.

“Vietnam’s success raises key questions about how it reached such levels of learning, and whether its achievements can provide insights that help other nations,” said Paul Glewwe, one of the research team’s principal investigators.

“The project is very ambitious in scope, and it takes advantage of an incredible success story in education in developing countries.”

A team of nine experts from institutions within and outside of Vietnam will undertake a systematic evaluation of Vietnam’s education system by analysing the status and impacts of past, current and upcoming educational reforms. The aim is to understand how policy levers made Vietnam’s exceptional achievements possible, and whether and how new reforms are able to build on its achievements.

Vietnam’s push to continue to improve its educational system stems from the desire to address inequalities in education among certain populations within the country, and from the realisation that it will need to expand its supply of skilled labour in order to continue the nation’s economic growth, which has led to broad-based improvements in living standards over the past generation.

“Debates about how best to sustain growth and to improve living standards form the backdrop of efforts to reform Vietnam’s education system,” said Le Thuc Duc, Senior Researcher and Head of the Section for Economic Forecasts at the Centre for Analysis and Forecasting, and Principal Investigator for Young Lives Vietnam.  

RISE was launched in 2015 to conduct high-quality research to build a body of world-class evidence to inform education policy, and to raise learning outcomes for children in the developing world. Research in Vietnam and elsewhere seeks to shift emphasis away from long-standing, input-oriented goals – children’s attendance in schools - and toward output-oriented achievements - increased literacy and numeracy skills.

RISE is supported by £27.6 million in funding from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), which has dedicated £21 million to high-quality research in up to five countries, and £6.6 million to support expert advice and management; and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), whose commitment of A$9.85 million (£5.1 million) has allowed RISE to incorporate a sixth country.