Vietnam in transition: some reflections on Change


Among Asian countries that have successfully integrated Western education into their post-colonial modernisation process, the case of Vietnam is an excellent example of this transformation. From an agrarian-based community with deeply rooted Eastern tradition until early 20C, this young nation has become a vibrant and modern nation with enormous potential for development by the mid-seventies. Success factors include a paradigm change in educational policy following Western standards while using a national script and building a strong national identity based on a solid foundation of millennial wisdom of Eastern values.

In the early phase of modernisation, Cochinchina was a French colony after long centuries of the Han-Nom tradition of learning. The introduction of the national language was the most significant factor that increased the literacy rate and importation of foreign ideas and encouraged more independent and creative thinking away from the rigid Chinese script literature. Through a unified language that allows more creativity in literature based on local contexts, the people of different parts of the country could communicate better and share their life experiences with more heartfelt emotions. The patriotism that arises thereof is a sense of belonging, combined with new ideas on democracy, freedom and equality. French philosophers and thinkers such as Rousseau and Victor Hugo were the first social-oriented school of thought that shaped Vietnamese youth pre-war and the generations after that.

During the post-colonial period, the new nation had to rebuild a system of education that served the needs for learning of a more significant part of the population, characterised by two main trends: the Old School and the New School. While the Old School or traditionalists (Cuu Hoc) recommended keeping Eastern values and resisting modernity, one could see that apart from the 3-religions tradition, the New School (Tan Hoc) was more enthusiastic about new ideas and new worldviews, namely humanism and Christianity. These ideas strongly influenced the transformation of modern Vietnamese’s system of beliefs, primarily through modern philosophy and literature studies.

Typical pioneers of the New School (Tan-Hoc) trend were scholars who actively participated in the new French education and left a strong blueprint of their thinking on the history of education in modern Vietnam. Tran Trong Kim and Dao Duy Anh were among them who significantly contributed to integrating the Vietnamese spirit into the current school concept. In addition, Truong Vinh Ky and Nguyen Hien Le were also instrumental in teaching new ways of learning through classic and modern works in literature and philosophy of both Eastern and Western traditions.

In post-modern education, new skills were necessary to meet the needs of going global. Apart from language and IT literacy, competencies such as critical thinking, effective communication, linguistics, pedagogy, and life skills add to the challenges of modern teaching. Indeed, with the globalised trend, the competition for resources between countries becomes increasingly urgent and are sources of conflict that escalate with the power struggle between modern states. Therefore, educating the masses for survival is no more the task of some bureaucrats or nationalist leaders; educating citizens for peaceful cohabitation on a global scale has become the agenda of all nations to prepare future citizens who share common values.

From this perspective, Vietnamese teachers need to work hand-in-hand with international peers to define what are these common values applied in the local context.

Notions such as culture and sub-culture, intercultural, cross-culture, cultural diversity, values and traditions help to answer questions on “What is culture? What is cultural heritage? What is the role of literature in culture; How do faith and spirituality shape people of the same culture; How do religion and philosophy interact; How do people of different cultures interact with each other; What is the meaning of diversity; What is inclusiveness, etc.”

Reflecting on the term ‘change’ means trying to answer questions such as how changes affect us as Vietnamese individuals, as a community, and as a nation; what is so characteristic about the perception of change in the Vietnamese context? And last but not least, how do we manage change in the globalised context as a nation?

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Published by Anita H.

Expert in Intercultural Communication, navigating between 4 cultures and 5 languages which I use daily for work and leisure. Author of blogs on wordpress and blogspot on SBI Training Solutions Projects: vietnamhoc, yourvietnamexpert, yourvietbooks,

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