Choosing Your Child’s Education

Education - Saigon/HCMC: March 23, 2016

Education is an important issue for expatriates and Vietnamese alike, and HCMC has a wide variety of first-rate international and local schools.

For the expatriate community, education in HCMC is generally only necessary for a few years. Parents tend to choose a curriculum which will be accepted worldwide so that their child may easily return to his or her home country (i.e. US, UK, Australia, Japan, Korea) or travel to any other country that accepts the chosen curriculum. Conversely, a number of Vietnamese parents choose international schools for a variety of reasons. The key motivations seem to be an international education, enhanced job prospects and career paths, an international learning environment, interactive, open-form learning, and a wide array of extracurricular activities available (art, music, swimming, etc.) .

karo + palmolive + wesson = messy science fun ‐ Photo: flickr - woodleywonderworks

Positively, the value of international school education has improved exponentially over the past five years. This is reflected in the quality of their buildings, technology, and equipment but more importantly in the excellent teaching staff attracted to HCMC. Salary packages have improved dramatically and Vietnam now compares well with other Southeast Asian countries. On average, a school’s salary expenditure alone is between 75% and 92% of the total budget. In addition, some international schools are audited annually by their home countries to ensure that strict standards are maintained.

Less positively, in order to receive an international education, you must be prepared financially. Tuition fees vary greatly, but schools with a more advanced English curriculum range between US$10,000 and US$20,000 per year. In addition to tuition fees, expect to pay extra for enrolment, placement, uniforms, extra-curricular activities, transportation, and lunches. Even if you have no qualms with the tuition and fees, there is still no guarantee that the best schools will admit your child; keep the selection process and long waiting lists in mind when choosing.

Vietnam’s complex educational system includes pre-school, general education, vocational training, language schools, college and postgraduate education. Both state and private institutions and educational programmes are available throughout the city.

If you want your child to experience an authentic Vietnamese education, they can attend a Vietnamese school upon completion of a Vietnamese language test (often pending an interview with the school headmaster). International students who do not speak Vietnamese may participate in some master's programmes available through Vietnamese universities in cooperation with international ones. The leading advantages of Vietnamese schools are lower fees, and a sense of hard work, respect and discipline. However, the lack of student-to-teacher interaction and extracurricular activities is often criticised along with the archaic teacher-centred learning method which places emphasis on rote memorisation and a heavy workload.

Photo: flickr - Asian Development Bank

Another popular option is homeschooling. Given the rising costs of education and the inconvenience of far-away schools, Vietnamese and expatriates alike are looking at home-schooling as a possible solution. There is a wealth of information and support available on the internet for either a parent or recruited tutor to help homeschooled children succeed. Australia seems to be the acknowledged leader in the field of home-taught education.

So, homeschooling, international school, or local institution - which do you choose and how can you be sure it is the right educational fit for your child? Gary D. Benfield, parent and headmaster of ABC International School is quite pertinent in his advice: “In short, finding a successful route through the HCMC educational minefield is about choosing what best fits your child’s needs […] This is not something that one can be told by someone else, but which one must feel for yourself. Happiness is everything and especially so in all matters related to learning: visit the schools, think about what you are told about facilities and results, but above all else make a judgment about how happy your child will be in that learning community. Good education is a lifelong journey and different individuals will rightly choose different paths upon which to travel.”