A look at Vietnam’s growing options of international schools
The local real estate market has been in a sort of “honeymoon” phase when it comes to foreign investors, as the State allowed foreigners to purchase property for the first time in July 2015. The fact that you see so many new projects showing up around the city obviously shows that local developers are expecting foreigners, and obviously locals, to pounce on their new supply of developments.
As foreign investment in Vietnam expands and the country offers an increasingly favorable alternative to China for many multinational companies, so Vietnam is attracting more expat families and with it, a growing number of English-medium international schools.
These are schools for children between 3 and 18 years old, where learning takes place in English and typically follow a Western approach, with globally-recognized qualifications and good standards of teaching and learning. International schools in Vietnam vary in their size, orientation, facilities, fees and demographics; attracting both Western and Asian expats, as well as an increasing number of children from local families.
The International School Consultancy (ISC Research), which tracks information on the world’s international schools, lists 109 international schools in Vietnam for pre-school, primary or secondary students. Most of them are either British or American-oriented in the curriculum and qualifications they offer. Ten of Vietnam’s international schools offer students the chance to study the International Baccalaureate (IB), working toward the IB Diploma.
Ho Chi Minh City is not only the leading city in Vietnam for international schools, it is also one of the top cities in the world for its selection of international schools, with a current total of 64. Hanoi is the only other major city in Vietnam offering a significant range of international school options, with 32 schools.
Although originally established for expats, it is no longer just these families who are today enrolling at Vietnam’s international schools. An increasing number of local parents are now seeking them out over local schools because international school students stand a much higher chance of obtaining a place at a reputable Western university and, with it, a passport to good career opportunities and success both abroad and back home.
As well as graduating from these schools with globally-recognized qualifications, international school students study all, or the majority, of their subjects in English, ensuing they develop a very high competence of the language. They are also educated in a way that prepares them for the independent learning approach demanded by the world’s leading universities. With increasing competition for placements on university degree courses, particularly those in Britain, the US and Canada, it is this combination of qualifications, skills and language ability that sets the students apart.
However, options for local families at international schools in Vietnam are limited. Some international schools—those that are 100 percent foreign-owned—have restrictions set by the Vietnamese government on the number of local children who can attend. At these schools, enrolment of local children is capped at a maximum of 10 percent of the total student population for primary schools, and 20 percent for secondary schools. There is speculation that these caps for local children may be removed or relaxed in the future, but the government is yet to release any statement confirming this.
There are no restrictions, however, at the locally-owned international and bilingual schools where up to 100 percent of the students can be Vietnamese. These schools do have to comply to certain government requirements, including teaching Vietnamese culture and the Vietnamese language. Needless to say, this offers a particularly appealing solution for local families, providing children with an education that combines internationally-recognized curricula and examinations with local cultural identity.
As a result of the lack of enrolment restrictions for locally-owned bilingual and international schools, many such establishments have opened recently in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi to respond to the growing demand from Vietnamese families. Although some are achieving very high standards of teaching and learning, not all Vietnamese-owned international schools meet the standards that many parents expect. Accreditation helps to identify reputable schools, and parents considering the Vietnamese-owned international schools may want to look for schools that have achieved WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) or NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation to guide them in their choice.
The high density of international schools in Ho Chi Minh City means that the international schools have to remain competitive in the quality and range of their education provision. Most of the leading schools for educational standards are close to capacity or have waiting lists and are much in demand by both expats and wealthier Vietnamese families. The potential lifting of local enrolment restrictions at many of these schools will be very good news for local families resulting in greater choice and more opportunities.
Association membership and accreditation are two ways of identifying reputable schools. The leading international school associations in Vietnam include COBIS (the Council of British International Schools), EARCOS (East Asia Regional Council of Schools) and FOBISIA (Federation of British International Schools in Asia). They have codes of practice that schools need to maintain.
Another good way to judge an international school is its accreditation. Look for registered, accredited international schools. Some schools may say they are in the process of applying for accreditation. In a situation like this, it’s worth investigating how long that has been going on for. No accreditation process should take more than two years.
Think about the learning environment you want for your child. With increasing school options available, you need to decide your priorities. These can include the size of the school, student demographics, the learning resources available in the classrooms, the number of native English-speaking teachers and school leaders on staff, the type of curriculum, the learning approach, sports or arts facilities, proximity to your home, support for special education needs including gifted and talented children if necessary, and so on.
Think about the curriculum that you want your child to be learning. Sometimes schools will deliver a national curriculum (such as the National Curriculum of England) but provide a more international focus to make it relevant for all children in the school. Children do benefit from learning within the context of the country they are living in as well as from an international perspective.
There are also a number of respected international curricula now offered in many international schools including the International Baccalaureate (IB) which has programs for all ages (PYP, MYP and Diploma), or the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) and International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC). These internationally-oriented curricula, which are relevant for all children in all countries wherever they are living and learning, can be a badge of quality for an international school and often suggest a strong focus on the learning needs of all children.
Also investigate the exam qualifications that a school offers. Some international schools take British GCSEs and A levels, others study towards American High School Diplomas, and others take more international-oriented exams such as the IGCSE or the IB Diploma.
The curriculum your child will follow and the qualifications they can achieve may impact the higher education opportunities available to them.
Sami Yosef is the Southeast Asia Consultant at The International School Consultancy. He is based in Bangkok and surveys and interviews international schools throughout the region including those in Vietnam, collecting data and intelligence on the market. Much of this research is used by the schools to support expansion and new development. Sami is one of a team of regional research consultants based around the world. More information is available at www.iscresearch.com