Some thoughts on Vietnamese education after listening to Diane Ravitch’s talk at Lehigh University

The talk by Diane Ravitch at Lehigh University made me reflect on Vietnamese education system. Though I have been working as a teacher in Vietnam for 12 years, attended numerous training courses, and listened to a myriad of talks about education reform in Vietnam, I have never had an opportunity to listen to any educators who can vehemently express disapproval of the current education policies. What I heard about school reform in the US in Diane Ravitch’s talk brought me a refreshing experience and helped me better understand Vietnamese education.

Since “Doi Moi”(renovation) process in 1986, together with the economic reform, Vietnamese education has undergone significant reforms in education and has seen certain achievements. However, teachers and students who implement and are supposed to benefit from these reforms are almost always voiceless. There are articles in the media criticizing some aspects of the education system. However, in Vietnam, it is nearly impossible to find an education activist like Diane Ravitch or Sir Ken Robinson who can overtly criticize national education reforms, arguing they are killing students’ inquiry, creativity, and critical thinking, and propose that drastic measures should be taken to transform education rather than reform a failing system. There was once a high-school teacher in Vietnam who quite often publicly fulminated against the corruption in the Vietnamese education system. However, his debating points were not well-received by most people who were used to taking the negative sides of the public education system for granted. After several years of being the lightning rod of criticism, his voice in the fight against education corruption is no longer heard.

Quite different from public education in the US, Vietnamese public education is not threatened by educational privatization because public schools are recognized to be of higher quality than private ones.  However, there is still a need to protect public education as the ‘civil rights issue of our time’ in Vietnam. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by UNESCO,  which was passed nearly seven decades ago, states that “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” However, that right is not entirely ensured in Vietnam. Because public schools are underfunded, some students cannot enjoy free K-12 education.  Tuition and other hidden fees can become a burden for many households of students, including even primary students. The dropout rate after primary education is high, especially among students in rural, mountainous areas because their families cannot afford their education and/or child labor is more valuable than school attendance. Diane Ravitch is absolutely right when stating that poverty is among the root causes of low education standards.

Though there are no incentives and sanctions imposed on schools and teachers based on the results of high-stakes standardized testing in Vietnam. These tests not only drive teachers to teaching to the test, cause hierarchy among subjects, and lead to feeling “shame” and further marginalization among marginalized youth (Rich, 2003), but also make most students resort to purchasing private tutoring and consequently create “teacher corruption” (Dang, 2007). Unlike the US where low-performing students are offered free tutoring, private tutoring is a thriving market in Vietnam in which students (and their parents) – whether they are low achievers or high achievers – are the eager buyers of tutoring services, hoping to enhance their children’s academic performance and teachers are enthusiastic sellers, aiming to supplement their low income (Dang, 2007; Kim 2013). Private tutoring in Vietnam is not borne by the government’s encouragement to enhance the quality of public education like in the US. Its existence instead may threaten the quality of mainstream education. Private tutoring may “create disaffection” at school because students are bored with over-learning or they have learn the contents in advance during tutoring lessons. In addition, tutoring can decrease the effectiveness of teachers. Teachers may teach less during the school day to save their energy for the after-school tuition (Buchman, 1999) and students may have to attend lessons to please teachers (Dang, 2007). High-stakes standardized testing in Vietnam indeed directly or indirectly creates a fertile ground for private tutoring, which deepens the social inequalities between the rich and the poor, the rural and urban areas, and becomes a financial burden for many families.

I am totally convinced by Diane Ravitch’s argument that testing is “undermining education” and students’ academic performance and achievement should be evaluated through a process of learning rather than merely the test scores.  In order to improve education, we need to enhance the quality of teachers’ professional lives and increase their salaries rather than threaten to fire them. Above all, tackling poverty-related matters is the key to improving educational standards.


Buchman, C. (1999). “The State and Schooling in Kenya: Historical Development an Current Challenges.” Africa Today, 46 (1), 95-116.

Dang, H. A. (2007). The determinants and impact of private tutoring classes in Vietnam. Economics of Education Review, 26(6), 683-698.

Kim, H. K. (2013). An analysis of the causes of shadow education in the era of the schooled society. The Pennsylvania State University.

Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. NY: Basic Books.

Rich, W. (2003). Historical high‐stakes policies relating to unintended consequences of high‐stakes testing. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice,22(1), 33-35.


The Problems of the Unified State Examination in Russia

It was a warm sunny day in 2005. I was wearing my suit and tie. The day before, I followed advice of my English teacher and did nothing except relaxing. My classmates and I went to another school to take our first Unified State Examination (USE). I had my ID, a black gel pen, some snacks, and a dictionary (just in case) in my backpack. I had spent many hours with my English teacher on holidays and weekends and a few hours with private tutors, which together granted me with confidence for the test.

In 2001, USE was launched as an experiment in five Russian federal districts: Yakutia, Mari El, Chuvashia, Samara, and Rostov. In 2002, sixteen federal districts were added to USE. USE expanded to 47 districts in 2003, 65 in 2004, and 79 in 2006. Finally in 2008, the experiment reached every Russian school. Starting from 2009, the USE became an official tool for finishing secondary education and starting higher education. Certain regulations allow students to take USE before or after the announced dates.

The state examination is called unified because its results are used both for graduation from high school and for entrance into higher education. The USE consists of parts A (questions with multiple answer choices), B (questions require short written answer), and C (one or more writing assignments). A and B results are coded and processed by a computer. Qualified experts assess the C part. Russian language and Mathematics are mandatory subjects on USE, which are required for graduating high school. Three or more subjects are needed to apply for university admissions.

The universal examination is a recognized educational trendsetter in Russia. Universities are ranked by freshmen USE results. Teachers are awarded by their students’ USE results. Schools are rated by USE results. Private tutoring is proved to be a highly effective and marketable service for USE preparation. The USE assignments have transformed and continue to define school curriculum.


Numerous debates have taken place since the introduction of USE in 2001. The USE is expected to provide equal and just opportunities for every citizen of the Russian Federation to apply for any university admission if he/she meets requirements. However, students of nomadic schools (same citizens of Russia) who are striving to preserve their native endangered language, cannot meet requirements since their tutors cannot train them thoroughly. All tests, except foreign language, are in Russian. In 2009, the Russian Supreme court declined a claim for USE organization in other languages of the Federation. Children of native peoples left out of the system and obliged to study all subjects in Russian for getting a university degree. Moreover, foreign language will be the third mandatory USE as of 2020. In 2012, official reports stated that 2.9% Russia’s students failed the USE. Students who plan to apply for Arts and Humanities take the same Mathematics USE as future engineers.

The entire secondary education system is designed to prepare students for the standardized final testing. The USE caused a birth of State Final Assessment (SFA), which requires ninth-grade students to take two mandatory and three optional exams. Counselors state that exams are stressful for teenagers. There is some sense in it. Pressure starts at school when teachers motivate you by scaring of possible failure.



Some critiques point out that USE has caused corruption in schools located in remote areas where students score higher than in cities and towns. Nevertheless, it has reduced corruption in university admissions.

Students often use the 10-time-zone magic of Russia: students who start USE in Asian Russia help their colleagues in European Russia by displaying answer forms on the web. In 2012, 167 students from 46 federal districts were caught and their results were annulled.

As the Unified State Examination is widely criticized, the Education and Science Ministry makes an effort to further develop the test and address some of the critique. I think that the USE should be offered in all languages of the Russian Federation to preserve native languages, to provide equal access to education, to follow the state Constitution, and the article 26 of the Human Rights Declaration.



Nomadic Schools in Yakutia (Russia)

Being simultaneously an Asian, Sakha (Yakut), and a citizen of Russia, I face unhidden interest about my homeland and my origin. Influenced by centuries-long stereotypes about Russia, many people do not know how diverse Russia is. It’s almost my daily, unpaid duty to reveal the diversity of Russia to others. When my international friends talk about my country, they use terms “Russia”, “Russians”, “Russian language”, “Russian culture”, imagining one notion instead of many. For instance, not many people use the country’s official name – the Russian Federation. However, only Federation embraces multinational, multicultural, and multilingual Russia. The Russian Constitution starts with: “We, the multinational people of the Russian Federation, united by a common fate on our land, establishing human rights and freedoms, civic peace and accord, preserving the historically established state unity…” However, this diversity often remain invisible.

The Sakha Republic (Yakutia) is a unique and special in every way. First of all, Yakutia is the largest federal subject of Russia by its territory and covers three time zones (1/5 of Russian territory, the Sakha Republic territory equal to five times of France territory). Yakutia is a home to several indigenous ethnic groups of Siberian north with their traditional lifestyle, culture, and education.



According to 2010 Census results, 403 nomadic families with 782 children live in the Sakha Republic. Reindeer husbandry is the main occupancy of nomadic families. In addition to traditional family education, there are 13 nomadic schools covering 180 children.

In extreme conditions of the Russian north, nomadic schools are designed to follow reindeer migration routes and provide access to education for children of native Siberians. For reindeer winter routes nomadic schools have buildings, for summer routes they use tents. These schools are supplied with compact computer, chemistry, physics, and biology labs. The curriculum includes classes of native language, Russian, national history, national culture, traditional ways of hunting, fishing, reindeer husbandry, environment protection, etc. Learning of the native language is one of the important goals since all languages of northern peoples are included in the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Endangered Languages. UNESCO and local government play key roles in nomadic schools development.



A teacher of the nomadic school is required to speak a native language, to be able to teach several subjects for children of various ages, to know traditional nomadic way of life, and be ready to face severe life of the Arctic. In 2006, the Yakutia Teacher Training Institute has introduced a special two-year program (with an option of distant education) to train teachers of natural sciences and mathematics.

Some northern children of Russia attend boarding schools in towns away from their families and traditional way of life. Children have access to the radio, television, and, in some places, to Internet. Not all of these children would like to return and continue traditions. Some of them dream to live in town, to get a university degree, to travel, etc.

Today, an International Arctic School project is being developed by a group of experts from Yakutia and it is undergoing a process of discussion. The international arctic school is expected to provide a university level degree with international standards to students of arctic regions. It is proposed to build an environment-friendly school in close proximity to the native populations.

Notwithstanding many positive outcomes, Russia’s indigenous people continue to face serious issues, including transport, healthcare, etc. I believe that all native indigenous people of the north should be granted a special status; laws and programs shaping this status should be designed together with representatives of Evenk, Even, Chukchi, Dolgan, Yukagir and others to ensure their survival and development in the future.



New Oriental: How to make private tutoring successful in China?

“At New Oriental, our mission is to inspire Chinese students of all ages to improve their lives and expand their horizons through a lifelong commitment to learning. By empowering students to achieve their potential, build self-confidence, and develop a global vision encompassing both traditional Chinese values and modern thinking, New Oriental is committed to training a new generation of business and community leaders.”[1]

—Mission statement of New Oriental—one of the most successful private tutoring companies in China


 Recently, students in Lehigh’s International Education Policy class discussed the issues surrounding private tutoring, also called shadow education. The discussion focused on such issues as the phenomenon of private tutoring becoming worldwide, the equity implications of private tutoring, and the professional ethics of teachers who also work as private tutors. However, the situation of private tutoring is quite different in different countries. For example, shadow education functions successfully in Japan, while in other countries (such as Cambodia) private tutoring is not as successful. Although private tutoring has become a worldwide phenomenon, it is still heatedly debated.

After class, I continued to think more about private tutoring in China, and reflecting on how private tutoring has already been permeated into Chinese students’ common lives. Why do I say this? Because New Oriental—the most successful private tutoring company in China— has close relationship with Chinese students. New Oriental mainly focuses on the English language, and provides all tutoring services related to English examinations such as GRE, TOFEL, IELTS, and SAT. Since New Oriental was founded in 1993 in Haidian Distinct of Beijing, it had built 53 short-time language educational schools, 47 book stores, and 500 learning centers in 48 cities in China, and the 2011 statistics showed that there were about 15,000,000 students who had studied in New Oriental.[2] Now New Oriental is becoming more popular than the regular schools, and after connecting its success with the in-class discussion, I would like to highlight four points that make it successful:

 1. Addressing the needs of the Chinese society. New Oriental was founded when Chinese families and students began to be aware about the advantages of the Western education. At that time, the entrance exams such as GRE and TOFEL were seen as obstacles to pursuing education abroad and there was no doubt that the establishment of New Oriental helped those students prepare for the tests. With a good start, New Oriental began to expand its business to more areas, such as SAT training. With more and more Chinese students going to study overseas, New Oriental develops successfully

2. Offering new tutoring modes. “Speed Education” [3] is a strategy which New Oriental has implemented for many years. It means that most courses provided by New Oriental are short-term and last no more than twenty days during the holidays. At the same time, New Oriental learning centers are all over China, increasing access to tutoring services to students. Students don’t have to squeeze their own time from their busy school schedules; instead, they can choose any learning center which is near their homes. If there are still students who cannot attend the classes, they can choose to use online courses. Moreover, although the courses are short-term, the fees are very high. The high fees put pressure on students who are eager to make full use of every coin they pay. They have clear learning goals and concentrate on the entire courses, often resulting in totally different performances compared to their regular school classes. [3] At the same time, during the tutoring classes, teachers always tell some interesting stories about what happened to them in order to catch students’ attention, creating lively class discussions and avoiding boredom in their classroom. [3] Besides, in New Oriental, there is an interesting policy of grading for teachers. [4] In regular schools, teachers grade students; however, the roles change in New Oriental, where students grade and give feedback on each of their teachers’ performance. This policy guarantees the quality of courses and also is convenient for collecting suggestions from students.

3. Teaching the learning skills. Although New Oriental offers short-term courses, students receive plenty of information and curriculum content in the short period, which means that teachers have to make full use of every minute to deliver their knowledge. To make the class more effective, teachers choose to focus on the skills and not only the content of the teaching materials. [5] For example, for the reading questions in GRE, teachers will teach students how to exclude wrong answers and choose the right answers. When students participate in the exams, they have learned how to use the skills to answer the questions correctly. The higher frequencies of high scores on GRE or GMAT prove that those skills are more useful than the traditional teaching ways.

4. Raising the quality of teachers. Unlike those regular schools in China, the educational levels of New Oriental teachers are relatively higher and New Oriental has strict requirements for teacher recruitment. [3] Many teachers graduated from elite universities all over the world, such as Peking University, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, University of Pennsylvania, and others, thus creating an “elite team.” Besides, each teacher in New Oriental should have his or her own featured teaching method, [3] guaranteeing that every teacher is distinctive and thus ensuring unique learning experiences for students.

 Although New Oriental makes much contribution to the development of English in China, its commercial character is geared towards the generation of profit, which is also a reason of high fees. Rather than opening more learning opportunities for all students, New Oriental is only increasing opportunities for students who can afford the cost. This can future deepened social inequities in the area of education.

Furthermore, New Oriental is also criticized for problems in its leadership as reflected in such news titles as “Contradictions appear among administrative leaders in New Oriental”, “More and more teachers leave New Oriental,” and so on. According to the news reports, New Oriental has reached its success because of its collaborative leadership. However, some critics argue that as the company has become more successful and profitable, those leaders have become more arrogant and less collaborative, causing difficulties in reaching agreements and instead insisting on their own thoughts and ideas. [6] Moreover, many New Oriental teachers are becoming more famous and some students choose New Oriental just because they want to see the popular teachers. Those teachers think they bring much profit for New Oriental and they ask for higher salaries. If New Oriental refuses to meet their needs, they often choose to leave. It is a pity that some teachers have lost their original intention of being good teachers, they want to be more famous and earn more money instead.

Nevertheless, there is still a long way for New Oriental to go, and I also look forward to watching it develop in the future.









Widespread Culture of Private Tutoring in Hong Kong

The course “International Education Policy” under the Master’s Program of Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University has broadened my view in various ways. One of them is the area of private tutoring, which has also been referred to as “Shadow Education” by Dr. Mark Bray.[1] Dr. Bray is the UNESCO Chair Professor of Comparative Education in the Comparative Education Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong whose research focuses on private supplementary tutoring.[2]Before taking this course, I had an impression that private tutoring primarily existed in Southeast Asian countries. However, I have learned that it has been very common in many parts of the world, including Europe and the United States, but just in different forms. It reminds me of many interesting scenarios about private tutoring in Hong Kong, which I will examine in this blog.

Mainly, there are two types of private tutoring in Hong Kong. One is held at home and the other one is held in the education centers, which operate as businesses. For the former one, numerous online websites serve as a bridge between students and private tutors to match the requirements or criteria of both parties.[3]  For the latter one, there are significant numbers of education centers with a wide variety of choices for the public, including classes in musical instruments, dancing, artwork, languages, sports, martial arts, or even actuarial science. Some people may refer to these classes as enrichment programs. Evidently, many learning centers also offer classes in academic areas, like English, Mathematics, Chinese, while some of them purposely assist students tackle local or overseas public examinations, including SAT and TOEFL.  

Many factors contribute to the flourishing industry of private tutoring in Hong Kong. First, Hong Kong’s examination-oriented education system has put too much emphasis on the students’ academic results, which can alter their future academic and professional trajectories. The recent shift from two to one public examination due to education reform from the British to American model further accelerated the explosion of private tutoring as students have much more pressure to only have one chance at succeeding on the exam.[4] However, being a good student does not mean that you can be successful in these examinations. What students need are the techniques and strategies to predict accurately the topics or questions in the upcoming exams according to the pattern from the past papers, as it is almost impossible for students to study all of the materials that teachers provide in the curriculum. By paying tuition for private tutoring, students hope to perfect the specific skills that they cannot learn in public schools because regular schoolteachers are deprived of comparable resources or the time to do that.[5]

Second, Hong Kong parents have the mentality of pushing their children to achieve excellently in academics due to the great influence of Confucianism.[6] Because the birth rate of this city is one of the lowest in the world,[7] “tiger parents” often place all their hopes in one child to become a “Dragon” – an almighty creature in Chinese culture.[8] Before the babies are born, mothers already think about which kindergartens, primary, and secondary schools their children would need to get in, so that they could attend the top universities and have good jobs at the end. Parents also believe that private tutoring could assist their children in learning extra information, so that they could succeed on public examinations. In addition, parents expect their children to become competent in all areas, including languages, art, music, sports, and martial arts. They do not want them to lose at the starting point. As a result, they force their children to enter this vicious cycle of competitions and occupy their free time with many private classes – no matter whether they like it or not, often as early as only one or two years old. Sometimes, kids are tired and cannot enjoy their childhoods due to excessive external study. We can imagine how much academic stress Hong Kong’s next generation needs to bear, especially those who fail in this system. This pressure has been blamed for a growing suicide rate among students with poor academic record.[9]

Third, being a private tutor in Hong Kong can be a lucrative career. I used to be a part-time private tutor for primary school students when I was an undergraduate student to help cover living expenses. Some tutors can even make a living from tutoring services. Recently, Hong Kong has experienced a new phenomenon of some private tutors from education centers becoming famous celebrities like kings or queens. The most successful one is Richard Eng who has become a multi-millionaire! He founded Beacon College and he is considered to be the firstcelebrity tutor in Hong Kong. He wears lipstick for photo shoots and all classes are broadcast live through closed-circuit television.[10] With this career, he is able to drive a half-a-million-dollar Lamborghini car as well as dress himself up with brand-name clothing and manicured hair. [11]

5. private tutor billboard

6. private tutor billboard

Fourth, there is a lack of governmental regulations of private tutoring and many tutors operate no differently than entrepreneurs. The most fascinating phenomenon is the emergence of giant billboards in the most popular places where teenagers go. This creates the image of private tutors as pop stars. Besides, millions and millions of advertisements go online. Glossy brochures and impressive promotional videos are seen everywhere. Some tutoring schools will have full-page newspaper advertisements and television screens in railway stations and on buses to catch youngsters’ attention, claiming to transform failing students into A-grade pupils.[12]  Some tutors even have their own teams of stylists, fashion designers and photographers to make them look perfect and attract students.[13] Lately, with the advancement of technology, students can have additional purchases such as personalized interaction with the star tutor or the tutor’s assistant via Facebook or email.[14]

3. private tutor billboard

1. private tutoring ad. on the bus

Research in other countries suggests that private tutoring is a manifestation of privatization in education. According to a recent study conducted by the Asian Development Bank and the Comparative Education Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong, private tutoring will aggravate social inequalities, divert needed household income into an unregulated industry, and generate inefficiencies in education systems. [15] Sadly, the private tutoring phenomenon also demonstrates how little confidence parents and students in Hong Kong have in public education to lead the achievement of our next generation.  


[1] Bray, M.(2009). Confronting the shadow education system: What government policies for private tutoring? Paris, France: UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning.

[2] The University of Hong Kong (2014). Faculty of Education – About the Faculty – Professor BRAY, Mark. Retrieved on April 12, 2014 from

[3] Hon, H.N. (2010). Hong Kong’s Shadow Education: Private Tutoring in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Anthropologist,  4 (10).

[4] Sharma, Y (2012, November 27). Meet the “tutor kings and queens”. The BBC. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[5] Lui, M. (2007, January 28). Hot for teacher in Hong Kong. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[6] Ho, E.S.C., LAM, C.C., and WONG, N.Y. (2002). Parents’ Beliefs and Practices in Education in Confucian Heritage Cultures: The Hong Kong Case. Journal of Southeast Asian Education, 3(1), 99-114.

[7] The World Bank Group (2014). Fertility Rate, Total (Births per women). Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[8] Ministry of Culture, P.R. China (2003). The Almighty Dragon. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[9] Takoaka, N. (2013, December 12). Asian students still ace world rankings. Nikkei Asian Review. Retrieved on April  13, 2014, from

[10] Ng, Y.H. (2009, June 1).  In Hong Kong, Cram School Teachers’ Image Rivals Pop Stars’. New York Times. Retrieved on April 13, 2014,from

[11] Corren, A. (2009, November 10). Hong Kong’s ‘celebrity tutors’ turn millionaires. Cable News Netowrk. Retrieved on April 13, 2014 from

[12] The Independent (2011, June 5). Exam-obsessed Hong Kong makes celebrity tutors rich. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[13] Lui, M. (2007, January 28). Hot for teacher in Hong Kong. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[14] Sharma, Y (2012, November 27). Meet the “tutor kings and queens”. The BBC. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[15] Asian Development Bank (2012). ADB Study Highlights Dark Side of ‘Shadow Education’. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

Private tutoring in Vietnam: A public concern rather than a private story

The school operates extra classes because the students’ entry level knowledge is far below average and they are actually dumb” Ms. Mai, headmaster of a high school in Hue, Vietnam.

This statement was made earlier this year by an educational administrator who was trying to justify to the inspectors and reporters why her school held extra private lessons, charging students fees during school hours. Either feeling extremely shocked or somewhat empathetic with her explanation, many people have come to realize that this is only one among many reasons for having extra classes in Vietnam. Indeed, private tutoring appears to be indispensable in the context of Vietnam. This has in effect negated the ban on private tutoring for the last two years.

some snacks before the next extra class!

Choosing to confront instead of tolerate private tutoring, Vietnam has taken quite a few measures to tackle the rising scale of private tutoring over the last two decades. In addition to the regulations, the government has stipulated numerous policy documents to curb private tutoring and concomitant illegal financial affairs. Various measures and efforts to control private tutoring have been documented since 1993. In 2012, the country started enacting one of the strictest bans on private tutoring. Sadly, the phenomenon remains pervasive and tutoring practices become largely uncontrollable.

Despite the ban, extra classes in numerous forms continue to grow. The media continues to report cases breaching the private tutoring ban: school administrators violating the ban are fined, tutoring teachers are punished. Ironically, the more regulations introduced, the more teachers provide extra classes, both legally and illegally. The stricter the penalty provisions, the more creative parents and schools become in finding ways to continue the extra classes. While the vicious circle has not been broken, all people involved in this circle seem to feel more guilty. By seeking ways to supplement their salaries and cover the mainstream curriculum, many teachers now feel like criminals. By trying to secure their children the best possible education, most parents feel like accomplices. Worst of all, by attending extra classes to compete the regular curriculum or improve their academic performance, students feel that they are less able and even dumb!

Mark Bray, a scholar who has studied private tutoring for a long time, notes that private tutoring ban has appeared ineffective in most countries that implement it. South Korea has been the most often cited example. Its draconian measure against private tutoring during late 1900s was a complete failure, leading its government to loosen control on private tutoring practices.

Vietnam should learn the ‘private tutoring’ lessons from other countries, no matter whether these lessons are successful or not. It can also learn a lot from different education initiatives that have been introduced in other countries. More importantly, it should open the discussion on the related issues to the wider public, taking both parents’, teachers’, students’, and experts’ opinions. At the same time, more research on private tutoring and related issues in the local settings should be rigorously promoted.

Undeniably, it would take more time and resources to tackle the root causes of private tutoring than simply prohibiting it. I agree with many people saying that private tutoring seems like a chronic ‘disease’. But it’s by no means incurable. It also true that the effects of private tutoring are so serious that it badly needs fixing. But experience shows us that too often, quick medication proves ineffective in the long run and poses unintended effects. In fact, portrayed by the media as being “incompatible”, only “working on paper” or “going into an impasse”, the ban can hardly achieve its goal as a ‘silver bullet’ solution to private tutoring. Undoubtedly, choosing not to ignore private tutoring is a ‘must’. But inappropriate handling of it would run the risk of going against the very direction of the Vietnamese government’s ‘socialization of education,’ which emphasizes the need for “all segments of society” to contribute to the provision of education.

I share the view with the authors of the book ‘Shadow education in Asia’ who state that careful analysis and a great deal consultation need to be sought before implementing any policy. This can include thorough assessment of the current context to understand the supply and demand mechanisms of private tutoring in Vietnam.

Overall, instead of ‘upgrading’ the unworkable ban with new regulations and circulars, it’s high time for Vietnam to revamp the national examinations, which is private tutoring’s number one partner. In addition to reducing the study load at all levels, Vietnam should urgently reform teachers’ salary. Most importantly, it must improve the selection and training of teachers. It is teacher quality in mainstream schools that would gradually change parents’ deep-rooted stereotypes about education quality in public schools and misinformation about private tutoring’s miraculous effects on their children’s achievements.

Low Teacher Salaries Harm Public Education in Cambodia


The Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979) left the Cambodian education system in ruins. Millions of people were killed, including the majority of educated people, scholars, professors, and teachers. Schools were destroyed, libraries leveled, and books burned. Notwithstanding the efforts by the Cambodian government and international development agencies to rebuild the educational systems since the 1980s, the tragedy of Khmer Rouge continues to haunt public education today.

Teachers have played a central role in the education re-building efforts, yet they remain grossly underpaid. According to official statistics, in 2010-2011 there were 88,133 public school teachers in Cambodia, receiving wages in the range of just $50.00 to $100 per month. With this wage they have to teach a minimum of 16-18 hours per week. According to a Cambodia Independent Teacher Association (CITA) study from 2010-2011, primary school teachers received $50 per month with required teaching of at least 16 hours per week, lower secondary school teachers received $75 per month, and upper secondary school teachers received $100 per month. The study also showed that the wages increased by 120% for the primary teachers, 60% for the lower secondary teachers, and 20% for upper secondary teachers so that they could afford a decent standard of living (for example, basic food cost is placed at least $19.80 per month).

With wages at their current levels, teachers struggle to survive. More than 90% of teachers work second jobs in order to support their families. After school hours, many female teaches often sell snacks and phone cards on school campus, while male teachers work as motorbike taxi drivers or other jobs  in order to supplement their incomes.

One of the main sources of additional income for many teachers is private tutoring.  One student said: “I can’t pass the test if I don’t take a private tutoring class.” In private tutoring, teachers provide answers to the tests in order to attract more students to pay them. Some students have to drop out of school because they are unable to afford tutoring and subsequently fail their exams (IRIN, 2008). From my own experience as a high school student in Cambodia, I had to take private tutoring classes in order to prepare for the mid-term, final, and national exams. Those sessions were not provided in the formal classroom, but through private tutoring.

To prepare for university exams, we needed “special private tutoring,” which was conducted by the teachers who were involved in issuing the exam questions. We often discussed how important it was to take tutoring with particular teachers who had been known to be involved in the college entrance examinations every year. However, I could not afford it. And so couldn’t many other Cambodian students.

Private tutoring is not the only additional income tool for underpaid teachers, however. Teachers involved in college entrance exam and high school exam also earn money by selling question and answer books before the exams. Usually, one day before the exam the books are available for purchase on the streets almost everywhere especially in main cities. Every year before the national exam day, groups of students buy the question and answer books in order to help them during the exam day and, worse still, the students even pay the teachers during the exam so that they can open the books for the answers. This culture is well known by all but it does not seem to change, despite the many negative repercussions for students and wider society as a whole. Who should be leading the change and how?

Because teachers receive low wages, corruption has become the norm and quality education in unaffordable to many students. This raises many questions. In order to provide a better quality of education, should the first priority of government be aimed towards supporting and motivating the teachers? How could communities support the teachers? And, what have UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank, and other international agencies done for Cambodian teachers since they began to work in the country?

The Role of the Khan Academy in the Field of Education


In recent years, the Khan Academy has attracted great attention because of the free education it provides to anyone regardless of its participants’ location. As a non-profit organization, the Khan Academy provides free education materials covering Math, Science, Finance, History, Art, and other subjects using online videos through YouTube. By providing supplementary education free of charge, the Khan Academy may be perceived as a mainstream alternative to private tutoring. At the same time, however, it has been criticized for the quality of education it provides. So, let’s thoroughly examine the Khan Academy to get a better understanding about its emerging role in the field of education.

As noted on the Khan Academy’s website, the story started with Sal Khan’s intention to tutor his cousins in math. Since it was difficult to set a different schedule for each of his cousins, Sal Khan used YouTube for sharing his course notes with the cousins. As time passed, Khan’s YouTube videos raised interest among many other people, indicating a broader demand for these types of instructional educational materials which eventually lead to the establishment of the Khan Academy.

The Khan Academy has been viewed as an increasingly important trend in the field of education, and Sal Khan started to appear on talk shows like TED Talks. The popularity which the Khan Academy gained in such a relatively short amount of time opened more doors for the Academy. For example, the Academy received  $2 million from Google and $1.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to expand the number of course offerings and translate the core library into other languages.

There are many people who see the Khan Academy as an important new tool in the field of education, especially valuable for students who need additional educational support but do not have enough money to afford private tutoring. Based on a review of the Academy’s website and users’ comments, it seems that the Khan Academy does a great job of  making various kinds of videos available for the public, and teaching various subjects in a systematic way. With the addition of videos in different languages, it seems that the Khan Academy will continue its upward trend in terms of providing additional support and supplementary education to many others.

Nevertheless, many critics raise questions about the quality of education that the Khan Academy provides. Some argue that the evidence about the educational benefits of Khan Academy lessons is purely anecdotal and that it is necessary to examine empirically whether the Khan Academy actually “helps” students. In a very popular video, Michigan professors David Coffey and John Golden harshly criticize some of the math videos broadcasted by Sal Khan, arguing that they promote “a shallow understanding of math.” Likewise, Dan Meyer (a doctoral candidate at Stanford University) and blogger Justin Reich organized an online contest offering a $750 award for the best online critique of Khan Academy videos. Interestingly enough, all these critics applaud the mission of the Khan Academy to some extent, emphasizing the importance of providing free online education. However, their main concern is whether the Khan Academy will break new ground in providing quality education.

In conclusion, even though there is a growing trend in seeing the Khan Academy as an important tool for reaching out to more students and helping close the educational gap, the question of the quality of education remains urgent. If the Academy seriously considers its critiques and takes the necessary steps to address its problems, it is likely that it will better serve its goals.

Commercialization of Public Education in Russia Hits School Curriculum and Family Budget

Federal Law N-83 FZ activated the process of commercialization of public education that brought so far only uncertainty and frustration for Russian society. Certainly, there are more questions surrounding the reform than answers. Yet, it is becoming clear that the reform will have a major impact on school curriculum and family budget.

The law guarantees to provide basic education for free. However, people express fears that fee-free curriculum will be cut down to a bare minimum. One concerned parent explained that experimentation with the new law in her child’s school has resulted in narrowing down of the fee-free educational program to the following subjects: two hours of math, two hours of Russian language, three hours of physical training, and three hours of religious studies weekly. The “free program” is so basic that students have no choice but to attend fee-based courses in order to gain the necessary knowledge.  Some reports suggest that teachers force their students to attend fee-based courses and give low grades to those students who do not obey.

However, not all families can afford to pay for the courses. A price list posted on one of the Internet discussion forums states that parents have to pay a monthly fee of 500 rubles (15$) for general subjects (e.g., chemistry, biology, literature) and 1000 rubles (30$) for foreign language lessons. Parents are in panic since they believe the reform will hit their family budgets dramatically. Given the fact that average monthly salary in Russia is about 500-800$ (and many earn considerably less), allocating extra 200$ for a “proper” education is a significant burden on families (these 200$ do not include additional expenses, such as school uniforms, textbook materials, school repairs, and so forth). Clearly, the low-income families will be the ones to suffer the most.

Surprisingly, the government has not yet attempted to clarify this chaos of opinions. Although the official website of the Ministry of Education has devoted a separate page to the new reform, it only includes the text of the law and some additional normative documents.  Only three news and press releases are devoted to the reform and they all date back to 2012 or earlier. It seems that government is not ready to take an affirmative stand on the issue and is only observing the evolving situation from a distance.

Meanwhile, some activists are beginning to unite their efforts in opposing the reform. For example, there is a public initiative of concerned individuals called “Civil Initiative for Free Education” that boycotts the new law and regularly organizes demonstrations. There are also those who collect signatures and write petitions to stop the reform, as well as many others who are creating their smaller Internet communities. Their main concern is that the new law will lead to raising “a generation of dummies” and “grey masses that can only read and write, but not think.” Therefore, the negative impact of the reform is predicted to go far beyond the curriculum and family finances. It is believed that in a longer term the law will have a severe affect on the overall education level in the country.

Government official against Federal Law N-83 FZ (in Russian language):