Since COVID-19 became a global threat in January 2020, the education sector has been one of the sectors that received the most direct and serious consequences resulting from the pandemic: schools were forced to close for 4-5 months, the academic year plan was disturbed, millions of students had to study from home, anxiety and distress spread among educators, parents and students. However, besides these disruptions and challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has also opened up new opportunities to change the mindset of the education sector in Vietnam.
The negative impacts
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a great impact on the education sectors in many countries around the world, including Vietnam. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), because of the pandemic, in 188 countries, schools at all levels have been closed, affecting 91.3% of students. The total number of affected students is 1,576,021,818. Many countries are forced to cancel or postpone the high school graduation and university entrance exams. Among the 19 countries and territories listed, there are four countries which had to cancel these exams, including the United States, Indonesia, the United Kingdom and France; there are 9 countries where the high school graduation exams were postponed, including Thailand, China, Taiwan, Korea, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Malaysia; and there are 2 countries that have no specific plans, which are Belarus and Singapore. These examples show that many national leaders have actively come up with solutions regarding large-scale exams in the face of the pandemic.
In Vietnam, from January 2020 to the beginning of May 2020, all public, non-public and private schools and educational institutions had to cancel all face-to-face teaching activities. The Ministry of Education and Training had to rearrange the plans for exams and assessments at all educational levels. Particularly, the Ministry issued an Amendment Circular on the academic year plans for pre-schools, general education and continuing education institutions: the academic year will be extended to 15th July 2020, and the National High School Graduation Exam will take place from 8th August to 11th August 2020.
Challenges facing the Vietnamese education sector
The COVID-19 has posed the greatest challenges ever to the education sector in Vietnam. Serious issues such as the risk of permanently closing private schools, job loss, and students falling behind require the Vietnamese education sector to change its mindset about operation and management.
Looking back on history, the education sector has always played an important role in building and nurturing the Vietnamese long-standing culture. It has made important achievements, not only during the war, but also during the peaceful reconstruction period.
However, currently, the education sector in Vietnam still have many shortcomings. The general education program emphasises general knowledge, with little emphasis on personal qualities, soft skills, ethics and creativity. The program does not inherit the focus on ethics of the Confucian education, but instead, inherits its rigidity and overemphasis on formality. Most of the teaching time is devoted to intellectual training, while the understanding of intellectual training is being limited to the transfer of knowledge from teachers to students, and not being expanded to include the development of students’ critical thinking skills and creativity.
In addition, the mindset about education in Vietnam is fairly outdated, failing to keep pace with the country’s development in the context of a market economy. The mentioned-above shortcomings have existed for a long time before the pandemic. However, sudden disruptions have made them become increasingly prominent. Now, more than ever, the education sector needs to come up with solutions to various problems such as how to change the training formats and the teaching methods, how to shorten the program, change the exam rules, reduce the pressure on students, and increase educational institutions’, teachers’ and students’ autonomy. These are challenges but also opportunities, implying that if the Vietnamese education sector fails to adapt, it will face the risk of lagging behind.
Opportunities to change the mindset about education in Vietnam
As mentioned above, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened up new opportunities for Vietnamese education.
Firstly, this was the first time the Vietnamese education sector has officially considered online learning as a formal training format and put it into operation on a large scale. In Vietnam, online learning has been around since the 1990s. However, for many years, there has been a lack of attention towards this training format. When the COVID-19 pandemic occurred and made it impossible for face-to-face teaching and learning activities to happen, the Government and the society finally recognised the benefits of online learning and the importance of the Internet in education.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Ministry of Education and Training has issued a number of guidelines related to the implementation of online learning in order to ensure its quality. These guidelines have helped the higher education institutions organise online training, online assessments and evaluate students’ learning outcomes.
The recognition of learning outcomes from online training also creates opportunities for the sector to change its mindset about the quality of different education delivery methods, encourage innovations in teaching methods and the application of technology, while also promoting the importance of active learning and accountability.
This period is the time when the authorities and educational institutions should review the teaching and learning methods applied so far in order to build programs which provide students with the necessary amount of knowledge and encourage teachers to apply modern teaching methods and online training software, thus empowering students to take more ownership of their learning experience.
As the leading educational institution in politics, journalism and communication, the Academy of Journalism and Communication (AJC) has taken the initiative and quickly responded to the changes caused by COVID-19 by implementing the online learning format on software such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom… since the early days. AJC teaching staff and students have also adapted their teaching and learning methods to the requirements of online training. These are the results of the adaptability in terms of operation and management of the Board of Directors, as well as the collective efforts of the teaching staff and students. This can be considered a typical example of changing mindsets about the education of AJC in particular and of the educational institutions in Vietnam in general.
** The author is the Acting Rector of the Academy of Journalism and Communication, Vietnam**