The Pygmalion Effect, Part 1

The obstacles to developing a savvy English speaking Vietnamese youth

Last month Thanh Nien News published an article stating “English language proficiency will be dependent upon private sector tutoring”.I discovered it referred to the Pygmalion Effect or Rosenthal – Jacobsen Study (1968) in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform. This was never clearly explained in the article. Wishful thinking or pre-conditioned bias as to results? I wasn’t able to discern the value of this theory, but it appears to be an influential concept driving the expectations and policies of the Vietnamese government.

The article goes on to say that “86,000 English teachers across Vietnam were taking European standard exams aimed at gauging if they are competent enough to churn out an English savvy young workforce by 2020.”

This goal is being criticized as being unrealistic by a number of foreign consultants including myself after a personal experience at the National Teachers College in HCMC. After investing over four and a half hours a week for 15 weeks, the 100 children and seven teachers I taught resulted in a dead-end experiment. The teachers decided that it was me as a foreign teacher, not the curricula, that resulted in remarkable gains on the part of the 100 three-to–five-year-old students.

We are here to assist, often on a probono basis, but as Dennis Berg, who has worked as an education consultant in Vietnam for over 20 years, is quoted in the article: “Without faculty development and changes in teacher training programs, the project will never reach its goals.”

The project that he refers to has a budget of USD443 million, approved in 2008, which envisions that by 2020 “most Vietnamese students graduating from secondary vocational schools, colleges and universities will be able to use a foreign language confidently in their daily communication.”

My personal concern is based upon the criteria that government mandate has established that “English will become a compulsory subject at the third grade onward.” It may not conceivably become reality under that current government edict.

As an early childhood educator, I strongly support Nguyen Vinh Hien, the Deputy Minister from the Ministry of Education and Training, when he said that “early childhood from birth to eight years of age is the most critical period in human development, so early care and education for millions of children in the country should be a priority.”


“Parents were too busy earning a living to have time for interactive activities with their children. Many wrongly assumed that eating and sleeping were enough for their children,” said Ta Thuy Hanh, from Save the Children foundation.

This recent comment from a foreign educator posted on the Your Two Cents forum on stated: “My oldest friend in Vietnam has held contracts at universities from Hanoi to Phan Thiet to train the faculty on doing a better job of teaching English. He has been invariably thwarted from fulfilling his contract by administrators who ask him to teach English to undergraduates instead of teaching Vietnamese English teachers how to do a better job.”

So how can Vietnam solve the challenge of teaching “competent enough English teachers to churn out an English savvy young workforce by 2020”?
I will present my suggestions next month, but invite Oi readers, many of whom are most certainly competent English teachers, to present your opinions and suggestions. Email us at


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