EduVoice Part 1: What's new in Vietnam's new National Curriculum?

EduVoice with National Geographic is a series of educational interviews with top Educators discussing issues and opportunities in Education. This episode Where Are We Going Next? : Vietnam’s English National Curriculum with Dr. Hieu Nguyen (CEO, IEG Consulting) and Dr. Nguyen Thanh Binh has attracted 600+ people from 20+ countries. They shared their view on

  • The design and roadmap of the new national curriculum of English

  • The challenges for multiple stakeholders across geographies, segments and school models

  • Potential impacts of the new national curriculum on teaching and learning quality from K-12 to college

  • Systemic solutions for school leaders and teachers to cope with challenges


Key Changes

Interviewer: What are some of the big differences between the old approach of Education in Vietnam and the new curriculum?

Dr. Binh: I think that there are a number of vital differences between the old and the new curriculum that are being introduced. The first and the most apparent change is the shift from content-based curriculum to competency-based education. And I think that this is linked to the philosophy of learner-centered. So learners are active agents, and they have the opportunity to bring their own knowledge of past experiences and education and ideas into different activities in the classroom.

And it is the job of the teachers to lean on the learners’ strengths, and also identify the weaknesses and organize the most appropriate activities for the students in the classroom.

They have to think more about what positive changes that are needed, and meaningful to the students. And they need English for a variety of purposes, for example, for entertainment, for everyday life, or for overseas study.

And all of these lead to the competencies needed to be developed among our learners. So primary education will help familiarize our students with the English language, while the secondary and high school education will provide a solid foundation. And the university will build and sharpen people's competencies for their future needs.

So correspondingly, people who implement the curriculum, including the teachers, will need to think about what methods I should use, what kind of content should be included? And what kind of materials should be used and how the assessment is going to help determine whether the students have achieved the goals of learning or not?

Dr. Hieu: Besides what he said, I think there's a tremendous shift as the underlying philosophy approaches the design of the new curriculum. So I was one of the students like many of you, who grew up in the old way of teaching and learning English. And now I am somewhat on the other side, when I work with educators.

In a very quick sense, the old way focused their approach with a structural view. They see the language as a system of very structurally related elements for the coding of the meaning. Therefore the target of language teaching and learning is the mash of elements of systems such as grammatical units, or lexical items.

So in the past, teachers focused a lot on intensive control on grammatical structures, accuracy in using the languages, not necessarily fluency.

And basically, it does not require the English teacher to be good English speakers, or it doesn't require much from material-developers because there's only one set of textbooks and you stick to the textbook.

And the cost is we kind of forsake the fluency of using languages, there's too much pattern drills and memorization. They ignore the context in the reading and in the listening audio. Now we move on to a more functional interactional view of the language.

Language is now like a way for the student to focus on the communication aspect, rather than just purely the grammatical characteristic of the language.

That's why I think with that kind of shift in the approach of teaching and learning language, from the old curriculum to the new curriculum, requires a tremendous shift in not just the design of the curriculum, but also in the teaching methodologies of teachers, as well as the way we assess the student competency. And I think with the new curriculum that focuses very heavily on the communicative aspect, a lot of the shift has to be geared towards Communicative Language Teaching. I think that is probably a very big shift for and also a challenge as well, not just an opportunity for English language teaching and learning in Vietnam.

One Curriculum, Many Textbooks

Interviewer: So you two mentioned one curriculum, many textbooks, and this is kind of the slogan of the new curriculum. What does that mean?

Dr. Binh: In the past, there was only one fixed set of textbooks and then the teachers must make sure that they cover 100% of the textbook, and took it for granted that no modifications of the textbooks were allowed. However, with the introduction of one curriculum, multiple sets of textbooks, the curriculum is considered as the starting point for everything.

What it means is that teachers are required to understand the curriculum, including the expected outcomes of the learners, the content, and recommended methodologies and assessment.

After that, they will make the decisions of what kind of materials that can be used. They can use other materials to support their teaching and get students to achieve their learning goals.

Interviewer: What is the timeline of the curriculum coming into effect? So when can we expect to see students really learning under the new system?

Dr. Binh: The new curriculum will be rolled out gradually. Each year, a few more grades will run on the new curriculum until the year of 2025. The school year 2024-2025 will be the last year to introduce the curriculum to grade 5, grade 9 and grade 12.

See the full interview here.