Why Is Education So Important to Vietnamese?

Education - Saigon/HCMC: April 10, 2017

Education has always been a very special topic in Vietnam. Good schools are expensive, yet attendance numbers keep growing. Why? In Vietnam, a good education is the promise of a better future (not to mention a source of a good reputation).

education in vietnam

An Average Day

It’s a beautiful day. But then your good, 42-year-old employee sends you a resignation letter because she wants to pursue a master’s degree. You work late and want to get home quickly, but at 9 p.m. there is still a traffic jam because of people returning from evening classes. At home, you learn that your sister-in-law and her husband will come and live with you because they sold their house to pay for their boy’s university tuition in the US.

In fact, studying in the US is not the boy’s dream, but the parents hope that their child “will not be worse than his friends”.

Your Vietnamese spouse enrolled your six-year-old girl for Vietnamese class, English class, mathematics class, painting class, dancing class, judo class and chess class on Saturday and Sunday, making the plan for this family weekend (and the plans for all other family weekends until the year 2029) “mission impossible”.

Don’t be upset. Those are everyday stories. You are in Vietnam.

Why Are Vietnamese People So Crazy About Studying?

There’s the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. Besides being the first university of Vietnam, this tourist attraction is famous for featuring stone boards with the names of ancient Vietnamese doctors. Hundreds of years have passed, but their names are still there for all to admire.

temple of literature

The Vietnamese love people who are good at studying.

Becoming a doctor was the perfect image of success in old Vietnamese society. After national competitions, the winners often received good job offers from the emperor. The family of that poor farmer boy could become an upper class family. That’s why parents and wives invested all their hope, effort and money in the family’s “student”.

Studying was considered one of very few ways to change your life and that of your family. This mentality hasn’t changed much, at least for most Vietnamese.

You often hear people ask each other: “Does your child study well?” or “He/she has not even finished her university degree; what can he/ she do?” It seems that for many Vietnamese, studying still means one of the rare ways to have a good future.

A Flourishing Business

Investing in education is one of the most lucrative businesses in Vietnam. So long as you have a reputation for delivering good education, Vietnamese parents will bring you their children and give you all their money. This explains the blossoming of (genuine or auto- declared) good schools in Vietnam’s big cities.

However, people have always known that it was expensive and risky to invest in your child’s or husband’s education.

Winning the national competition seemed harder than winning Vietlott today. In addition, there is a saying “Hoc tai thi phan” (Studying depends on your talent, but passing an examination depends on your luck).

Therefore, “Ai oi cho lay hoc tro / Dai lung ton vai, an no lai nam” (Don’t get married to students: you need a lot of tissue to make their clothes because they have long backs [a sign of laziness], and all they do is eat and lie down).

Today many Vietnamese know that studying is not the only way to have a decent job or to get rich.

The internet tells them, and they repeat to others, that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who quit their universities, became billionaires anyway – although 99.9 percent of the others who dropped out of university did not become billionaires. And many who stayed too long at university and got all their degrees, never became billionaires. There are many other ways to change your life and that of your family.

Creating a start-up may be a way, or being a bikini model, or being a hot girl/boy and hanging around/ getting married with someone rich. Some years ago, and even now in poor villages, getting married with a foreigner (Korean or Taiwanese, in many cases) may be another way.

However, most Vietnamese are still fond of people who are successful students. Ngo Bao Chau (the mathematician who won the FIELD prize) is still the idol of many young people and a dream of many parents.

And finally, here’s some proof all put together: articles on raising Do Nhat Nam (the young talent in languages) or Evan Le (the new “little genius” pianist) always attract a lot of attention from Vietnamese parents.