Vietnam – COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities for Vietnamese Higher Education


by Thanh Pham & Huong Nguyen


Online Teaching and Learning: Time to Kick Off Locally
Vietnam’s higher education has not developed adequately compared to its economic development in many aspects. The landscape of online teaching and learning is an example that illustrates how education is falling behind economic development. Although technology has been widely embedded in various aspects of economic and social life of the Vietnamese people (for example, online trading and businesses have become popular; Internet and mobile phone services are widely offered and utilised), the utilisation of technology in education is still very limited. Although the government and universities have proposed various forms of online teaching for years, very few institutions, academics and students have shown enthusiasm for these practices. Reasons vary but the main ones are long-lasting attachments to physical teaching traditions, low demand for resources in foreign languages (Vietnamese language is the language of instruction of all universities except some newly established international universities) and limited collaborations with foreign institutions (very few Vietnamese universities have joint and exchange programmes with foreign institutions). The outbreak might be an impetus for authorities and people to identify online infrastructure and then foster blended teaching and learning programmes and practices, which combine both face-to-face teaching and online delivery. The teaching and learning experiences that teachers and students are going through during the lockdown period will be a push to make this scenario become more probable.

When online teaching and learning are expanded, various economic, social and cultural benefits at both local and international levels could be achieved. Locally, undoubtedly current traffic problems in big cities will be significantly solved if more people take online courses; students in remote areas will have a better chance to participate in quality educational programmes and institutions; and academics and students could enhance research, teaching and learning capacities when they are able to access international research resources. Internationally, online programmes and practices could strengthen and foster connections between Vietnamese higher education and other countries. An increasing number of institutions and countries are collaborating by offering joint online programmes and degrees. Such collaborations require skills and knowledge of stakeholders involved in running the online programmes. Vietnam has lost opportunities for such collaborations due to the unavailability of online programmes and limitations in capacity for online teaching and learning of academics and students.

After COVID-19, common teaching and learning practices traditionally and deployed in Asian classrooms promise to become more popular in Western classrooms.

Vietnamese Cultural and Intellectual Resources: Opportunities for Global Dissemination
Recent trends in internationalisation of higher education are calling for researchers in countries in the Global North to pay more attention to the cultural and intellectual resources of countries in the South (Singh, 2010). This originates from current economic and environmental crises in many Western countries and fast economic development and constant successes of educational institutions in non-Western countries. Current online teaching and learning practices are, to a great extent, creating opportunities for the trend to happen more quickly. Various examples could be used to illustrate this. First, to have quality online teaching, teachers and students have to use heavy scaffolding and explicit pedagogical approaches. Students could easily get confused and lost if they do not have clear instructions. Asian education is well known for explicit pedagogies with clear instructions and steps (Pham, 2016). Common teaching practices in Western classrooms, such as independent, critical and inquiring, are increasingly being replaced by strong scaffolding and explicit teaching in online delivery. This replacement is being reinforced and becoming a “must” due to high anxiety and enormous stress facing students currently. After COVID-19, common teaching and learning practices traditionally deployed in Asian classrooms promise to become more popular in Western classrooms.

Fundamentally, long-existing educational principles which stress that interactions and verbal discussion lead to learning, such as those of Vygotsky’s, could be less enthusiastically advocated. After experiencing limited opportunities for verbal interactions but more engagement in quiet learning in online classrooms, teachers and students might ask: which forms of teaching and learning are actually more effective; or how various teaching and learning practices could be blended in teaching and learning?

Vietnam has been heralded as a COVID-19 success story with zero deaths and under 300 cases. The country of 95 million people is one of the first to ease nationwide lockdown.

Finally, the increase in deaths, shortages in medical services and enormous stresses people are experiencing globally are putting forward a fundamental question for both authorities and ordinary people: should the wealth and development of a country be only limited to political strengths, scientific and technological advancements and strong performance of students in science and maths subjects? Many people are changing their beliefs. More enthusiasm and attention are being paid to human values such as loyalty, community, collaboration, unitedness, tolerance, kindness and respect — common Confucian educational principles taught in Asian classrooms. These values have been clearly displayed in activities that Vietnam is undertaking to control COVID-19. Vietnam has been praised by many countries as a model in the COVID-19 war (no death and a small number of confirmed cases). Human-centred programmes, such as the establishment of rice ATMs in many cities and areas, cooperation of the people with authorities by closely following, listening to and proactively acting on governmental policies and instructions have inspired people in many other countries. These successes are the results of an emphasis in humanity education in Vietnam.

In sum, COVID-19 is threatening many sectors and countries but to limit consequences and open new opportunities, authorities of Vietnamese institutions need to take actions to review current programmes and see how more online programmes and services could be delivered. Vietnam’s educational and cultural values could also be more widely disseminated. The crisis is urging us to ask a fundamental question: to make a better world, should the South learn from the North or should both the North and South learn and support each other?

Singh, M. (2010). Connecting Intellectual Projects in China and Australia: Bradley’s International Student-Migrants, Bourdieu and Productive Ignorance. Australian Journal of Education, 54: pp. 31–45.

Pham, T. T. H. (2016). Student-Centredness: Exploring the Culturally Appropriate Pedagogical Space in Vietnamese Higher Education Classrooms Using Activity Theory. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 41: pp. 1–21.

THANH PHAM is Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia.

HUONG NGUYEN is Academic Manager & Lecturer, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia.

This article first appeared in the print version of HESB Issue #08. Click here to read the full, online issue.

Dr Thanh spoke as a panellist on The HEAD Foundation  “COVID-19 What Next…?” webinar series: Impact on Higher Education on 17 June 2020. Click here to watch a recording of the webinar.

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