Hanoi rage for high-quality schools explained

By Thanh Hang, Binh Minh   July 3, 2023 | 06:07 pm PT
A gulf between supply and demand and the desire to have kids studying at top schools has resulted in parents fighting for a slot at high-quality elementary schools.

In mid-June more than 200 people waited overnight outside Van Bao Primary School, the most highly regarded elementary school in Hanoi’s Ha Dong District.

When the school gate was opened the next morning, they rushed in all at once, elbowing each other out, all merely to apply for admission to first grade for their children.

Established only in 2020, Van Bao has quickly earned a reputation as an outstanding school.

Parents said other schools have 50 students to a class while Van Bao keeps the number at just above 30, and they are "satisfied" with the quality of its teachers and facilities.

In early June many parents got upset after their kids failed to get into the Hanoi - Amsterdam High School for the Gifted as the school refused to admit students who only achieved "done" instead of "well done" even in minor subjects such as drawing and physical education in elementary school. Never mind if they had gotten a perfect 10 in all the main subjects.

The high bar set by the school was evidently the result of the huge number of applications, which far exceeded its proposed intake.

The capital has since 2010 become the only place in Vietnam to develop the high-quality model for public schools with the goal of developing Hanoi into a center of high-quality education and training of the country and in the region.

Schools participating in the high-quality project are funded by the city budget to implement the roadmap within three years.

After officially being recognized as a high-quality school, the school must be economically self-sufficient and ensure that its facilities, teaching staff, and curriculum be commensurate with the tuition fees.

Such schools are always the target of students and parents’ attention and get more applicants that they can possibly admit.

The city now has more than 2,230 public schools, but only 22 are high-quality ones.

For the next school year starting next September, the Hanoi - Amsterdam school will take in 200 sixth-grade students but has received as many as 3,000 applications.

At the Cau Giay Secondary School, more than 2,700 students are competing for 440 places while Nam Tu Liem Primary School has received 500 applications for 176 places.

Parents jostle to submit the enrollment files to Van Bao Elementary School for their children, June 13, 2023

Parents jostle to submit the enrollment files to Van Bao Elementary School for their children, June 13, 2023. Photo by ???

The demand-supply gap, the desire to have their children studying at big-name schools and the inconsistency in the quality of schools generally are the main reasons for the scramble among parents, Pham Tat Dong, a former vice president of the Vietnam Association for Study Promotion, said.

The criteria for high-quality school are having a multi-purpose room, which can be used for multipurpose activities such as meetings, instructional activities and social gatherings, a swimming pool, enough classrooms to accommodate two sessions a day, supplementary courses, and foreign teachers to teach English.

They can have no more than 30 students in a class, and need to have health and psychological counseling at least three times a year.

These are similar to what private schools offer, but the fees at high-quality public schools are much lower.

Last year the tuition was capped at VND5.1-5.7 million (US$216-242) per month, but most only charged VND3-4 million, which was half to a 28th of what private schools and international schools did.

"Van Bao's tuitions can be covered with my family's income," Bach Quang Hieu, a parent who queued overnight to apply for admission to first grade, said.

Thu Nga, the mother of a child whose application was rejected by Hanoi - Amsterdam school, said: "The school is good, the tuition is moderate, so why not apply for it?"

A parent sits with her daughter before the girl takes the entrance exam to get into High School for Gifted Students, Hanoi National University of Education, June 1, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Duong Tam

A parent sits with her daughter before the girl takes the entrance exam to get into the High School for Gifted Students of Hanoi National University of Education, June 1, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Duong Tam

The quality of teachers and curriculums is the other main reason for parents to send their children to high-quality public schools.

All teachers at high-quality elementary schools must have English proficiency equivalent to IETLS 3.0. In high schools, at least half of them must be able to communicate in a foreign language and 40-60% of them must be recognized as "excellent teachers" at the district or city level.

The schools must have Vietnamese and foreign experts to provide professional support, and teachers must be given opportunities to make exchange trips to other localities or countries every year to learn from others' experiences.

As for curriculums, high-quality schools do not just meet the standards set by the Ministry of Education and Training but additionally offer subjects and activities to improve English skills like having them study with foreign teachers and learn math and science in English.

Nguyen Van Ngai, a former deputy director of the HCMC Department of Education and Training, said the schools' facilities and quality of teachers enable students to develop their full potential.

Given the fierce competition to get into those schools, students who are admitted would be among the best, he pointed out.

"If some students in a class are good at math but most of the rest are average, it would be difficult for teachers to teach advanced programs and go beyond textbooks," he said to explain that.

Chu Cam Tho of the Vietnam National Institute of Educational Sciences said high-quality schools have earned prestige and so it is understandable parents want to send their children there.

Education researcher Nguyen Thuy Phuong Uyen said parents today are better off financially than previous generations, and so would want their children to get better quality education.

Experts agreed that the high-quality model should be retained and even developed, and said that the schools need to come up with more specific criteria for admissions in terms of standards for students.

"It is necessary for quality schools to ensure fairness and creates motivation for students and parents," Tho added.

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