Viet Nam: Making education more inclusive
April 03, 2024 by Katherina Hruskovec Gonzalez, GPE Secretariat |
4 minutes read

In Viet Nam, too many children from ethnic minorities do not progress through the education system because early learning does not take place in their mother tongue. Read how GPE and The Nippon Foundation are supporting the country to make education more inclusive.

“Are there ethnic minorities who speak different languages in your country?", the translator whispers in my ear while I look back at the curious 13-year-old boy who had originally posed his question to me in Vietnamese. “Yes, as a matter of fact, there are,” I respond, while reflecting on my own country of Venezuela, where we have a minority of indigenous populations that speak languages besides Spanish.

His question came after he described to me the challenges that some of his classmates face because they speak a language other than Vietnamese at home – a challenge that many multicultural and multiethnic countries face, and one that is prominent in Viet Nam, which is home to 54 ethnic groups with 90 languages and multiple dialects.

Education challenges for ethnic minorities

Viet Nam has high primary school completion rates, strong gender parity, low student-teacher ratios, and a low out-of-school rate, but too many children from ethnic minorities do not have the support they need to progress through the education system.

Accessing and completing education is particularly difficult for ethnic minorities, and subsequent limited opportunities for growth and development for ethnic minorities have created pockets of poverty and human capital disparities. In 2016, ethnic minorities made up 14% of Viet Nam’s population but represented 73% of the poor.

One of the main education barriers for ethnic minorities is that early learning does not take place in their mother tongue, but in Vietnamese, the standardized language of instruction across the country.

May*, grade 8 student, Lào Cai province
“At grade one, I could understand, and I could learn quickly, but gradually the higher the education is, the more difficult it is for me to speak out. I do not know how to express myself in Vietnamese.”
Grade 8 student, Lào Cai province

Addressing language barriers

Viet Nam recognizes the importance of mother tongue languages in education. Bilingual instruction models piloted in pre- and primary schools have shown positive results in terms of students’ acquisition of their mother tongue, their uptake of Vietnamese reading and writing competencies, as well as their overall confidence in the classroom. Scaling up these initiatives requires resources.

GPE is helping Viet Nam to make education more inclusive by bringing resources and supporting coordination among partners through the GPE Multiplier – an innovative financing instrument. US$2.6 million in cofinancing from the Nippon Foundation has allowed Viet Nam to unlock a $2.6 million GPE Multiplier grant, with Save the Children as grant agent.

In line with the national strategy, the GPE program aims to accelerate inclusive and sustainable poverty reduction for the most lagging ethnic minority with a special focus on human development by:

  • Improving Vietnamese language proficiency of ethnic minority preschool children using a mother tongue-based bilingual education approach
  • Improving the quality of teaching and learning of ethnic minority languages in primary schools
  • Strengthening inclusive education for children with disabilities and ethnic minorities.

Supporting children with disabilities

Sao*, mother of 12-year-old student Thao
“She likes going to school. She said she will study to finish grade 12, but she can’t speak the language. On Monday morning, she does not sleep. At 3am, she tells me: Mama, cook meal quickly, I go to school.”
Mother of 12-year-old student Thao*

Sao’s daughter, Thao, is a grade 5 student at a primary school in Lào Cai province and has a hearing impairment. Their family speaks the Mong language at home, they know very little Vietnamese, and they do not speak sign language. Communication is difficult for Thao both at home and at school, especially as the school does not have any teachers who speak Mong.

Compounding the language barrier, teachers struggle to support Thao and other children with disabilities because they are not equipped with the skills or learning materials to address special learning needs.

The GPE program is helping Viet Nam to develop learning materials relevant to children with disabilities and to train teachers on how to use the materials. More children will be able to participate in education and be supported to progress through the education system.

rincipal at Thao’s primary school, Lào Cai province
“From the school perspective, we hope that the teachers who teach pupils with disabilities can receive more customized support in teaching methods for pupils based on their corresponding disabilities, so that the children can make progress faster.”
Thao’s primary school, Lào Cai province

The power of partnership

Recently, partners gathered in Viet Nam to launch the program and celebrate the system-wide commitment to enhancing educational opportunities for the most disadvantaged children.

This program is a triumph of the partnership between the government, development partners, national organizations, international NGOs and private sector foundations. It is a testament to what we can accomplish when we join forces to ensure that no child is left behind.

* Name has been changed.

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