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English program in Vietnam metropolis rapped for lack of transparency

A program launched by the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training (DOET) has recently triggered strong criticism for its lack of transparency.

English program in Vietnam metropolis rapped for lack of transparency
English program in Vietnam metropolis rapped for lack of transparency

On June 30, British Consul General Douglas Barnes made a statement to the local press, affirming that there is no agreement between the Department for Education (DfE) or the Standard and Testing Agency (STA) from the UK and the DOET and/or EMG Education – the distributor of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) in Vietnam – to supply curriculum test materials or to assure the quality of any aspect of teaching delivered in the southern Vietnamese city, nor has any formal approach been made to the DfE/STA to discuss such an arrangement.

The statement was made in response to requests made by a number of local reporters following a press conference held by the DOET on June 23.

The conference was to announce the city’s new program, the “Integrated Program,” which has been developed from the UK National Curriculum and integrated with the Vietnamese curriculum, according to the DOET.

The “Integrated Program” is to replace the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) which has been taught in the city since 2010, the Vietnamese department said.

Accordingly, the new program will teach elementary and middle school students English in 6 shifts per week. Even such subjects as math and science will be taught in English.

The new program is attempting to adjust the way in which math, science and English are taught to advanced standards in an effort to ease academic pressure.

Previously, students became overstressed because they had to follow two separate programs from the Vietnamese educational ministry and Cambridge.

Controversial program

The statement has shocked the public since it completely denies the DOET’s claim that they were working in cooperation with the DfE and that they had worked with the British department since December 2011 on the development of the program.

After the British Consul General’s statement, EMG’s vice chairman Nguyen Phuong Lan expressed her surprise to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

“I was surprised. The British Consul General had the certificate that the STA issued for EGM, so it surprises me when I heard that there’s no agreement between the UK’s Department for Education or STA with the DOET or EMG,” she said.

She also added that EMG has registered to be a member with the STA and received the certificate for it.

This certificate system has been recognized by the STA in Vietnam and more than 20 countries around the world, Lan said.

It allows members to use curriculum and tests in accordance with the certificate’s regulations, she further explained.

“I was also surprised when he denied the official relation between the DOET and STA. The British Consul General and the educational aide enthusiastically worked with the Vietnamese Embassy in the United Kingdom and held the trip for the DOET’s delegation to visit and work with the STA in December 2011,” she added.

“The delegation was received and welcomed by STA CEO Ian Todd and its experts. The STA’s curriculum and testing management have helped build the DOET’s Integrated Program.”

On the other hand, British Consul General Douglas Barnes protested that the meeting between the DOET and the DfE and STA was just a visit and that there was no official contact from EGM and the DOET for cooperation with the two British agencies.

The Consul General said that Lan had given the local press a paper that she insisted was the certificate recognized by the STA in February this year.

However, it is simply just a paper that proves EMG has registered to use STA documents and it does not reflect any agreement on the cooperation, Consul General Barnes said.

The STA and DfE will never have cooperation with any enterprise as they are functional to work at the state level only, he confirmed, adding that EMG as a company cannot have cooperation with the STA or DfE and the DOET has also had no cooperation with the DfE.

International test, local certificate

The new program’s lack of transparency and its controversy have drawn the attention of many educational experts as well as parents who want a clear explanation of their child’s curriculum.

On July 1, at a closed meeting with officials of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, DOET director Le Hong Son responded to the incident by telling the Voice of HCMC People that the department has made no announcement on the cooperation — there was only an announcement about the trip to work with the DfE so they could learn about the British curriculum and testing system.

“The integrated program based on the British DfE’s program under the registration of the partnership company integrates the British program and Vietnamese contents and methods in an effort to ease pressure on students,” he informed. “However, I would like to say that this program is evaluated and approved by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training but its implementation has to wait for the HCMC People’s Committee. It can only be implemented after being approved by the committee.”

However, earlier on June 25, the city educational department issued a dispatch on guiding the implementation of the project, affirming that “the DOET guides the implementation of this project in the 2014 – 2015 academic year for elementary and middle schools,” which was also announced at the department’s conference on June 23.

The dispatch has been published on the department website and many schools have downloaded it to deliver to the parents of their students.

In addition, on June 28, Le Hong Son himself also signed a dispatch on the evaluation system and testing registration process of the Integrated Program.

Accordingly, the program’s students will attend the tests of the STA’s Key Stage 1, 2, 3 and receive certificates granted by the DOET and EGM.

The regulation has confused many people.

“I’ve read the dispatch over and over but still cannot understand why students who attend STA tests receive certificates issued by the DOET and EGM,” a principal of an international school stressed. “Why aren’t they issued by the STA? How can the certificates be recognized at the international level if they are granted by the department and EGM? Is there any confusion here?”

“It is unacceptable that a program which claims to be advanced and imbued with national identity is certified by a private enterprise. What is behind the story? I hope competent state agencies will investigate and give parents satisfying answers,” he added.