Credit: GPE/Koli Banik

From Colombia to Vietnam: The Success of an Innovative School Model

How the Escuela Nueva model transforms Vietnam’s school curriculum

“My child is more self-confident and creative, has increased communication skills, and is taking initiative.” This is just one of many comments from a parent at the Dong Hoang Primary School, Dong Son District in Vietnam.

Group seating, group interaction and discussions, school councils and leaders, community and learning corners, fun mailboxes, and maps of the community are attributes are ever present when visiting one of the 1,447 schools spread over 63 provinces that follow the Escuela Nueva model.

With an $84 million grant from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) the Vietnamese government is adapting the Escuela Nueva school model which originated in Colombia to meet the needs and demands of Vietnamese students in the 21st century.  The GPE project has been in operation for almost one year with the support of the World Bank.

The “GPE Escuela Nueva” in Vietnam

Known in Vietnam as the “GPE Vietnam Escuela Nueva (VNEN)”, the project’s goal is building a model school with a focus on innovative teaching and learning methods, classroom organization, assessment of student trends, and community involvement. But what does all this mean and how does it impact children inside and outside school and their long-term learning outcomes?

I recently participated in the Joint Implementation Support Mission for the project in Vietnam. I could see first-hand the major changes happening in the schools where the project is being implemented and compare them to schools which were not part of the project. The goal of the mission was to enhance the capacity of national stakeholders to conduct evidence-based planning and monitoring to promote policy dialogue around primary education.

I accompanied officials from the ministry of education and development partners to Thanh Hoa and Tra Vinh provinces where we visited 10 schools.  These provinces were chosen because they are part of the GPE VNEN project and are located in poor areas with a high percentage of ethnic minorities.  In both provinces, we collected primary education data comparing VNEN schools with non-VNEN schools. We focused on qualitative aspects, such as attitudes, behaviors, teacher motivation, and community participation. It was also a great opportunity to interview and interact with central and local education stakeholders, school principals, teachers, students, parents, local women’s unions, youth groups and other development partners.

The new model shows promising results

Let me highlight just a few of the findings from the VNEN schools:

  • Students no longer sit facing the teacher and are lectured by the teacher. Now children are seated in groups of 4-6 at tables and the teacher talks amongst the groups. Each table has a rotating student leader who helps initiate the group discussions and group work.
    • The VNEN approach of promoting small group peer-learning and problem solving is helping to develop life-long positive attitudes, such as initiative, creativity, self-esteem, self-reliance, responsibility, social and communication skills, and self-confidence.
    • VNEN schools attempt to give children more learning opportunities within the school. They give children colorful walls to promote their achievements in public view. They open the schools for community participation, have community corners in the classroom and student councils with rotating elections so all students can have the opportunity to lead.
    • The VNEN approach requires motivation of teachers through frequent information sharing, especially for low-performing teachers.

Ministry officials are excited about the VNEN model and are taking pride in its initial accomplishments.  Currently the project is piloting materials for 6th grade, and there is already talk about adapting the model for secondary schools.   The ministry of education hopes that the VNEN model which is part of the government’s curriculum reform will transform Vietnamese students into innovative and creative thinkers.

An impact evaluation will provide data

An impact evaluation in 600 VNEN schools is currently underway and the results are eagerly anticipated as they will provide data showing what is working and what can be further improved  in the VNEN schools and whether students have better learning outcomes.  With a 2015 curriculum reform for the entire Vietnamese education system in the process, Vietnam is at a critical juncture to ensure these reforms are transformational, sustainable, and yield high quality results in learning outcomes. Thus, Vietnam will have to decide whether the VNEN model should continue to be a project- based initiative or adapted and scaled up for the entire country and all schools.

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