Cablegate: Poor Test Scores Prompt Calls for Reform of Vietnam's

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1. (SBU) On June 17, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET)
released data showing that 320,000 students failed this year's high
school graduation examinations. This year's pass rate was 25
percent lower than last year's. Some GVN officials have claimed
that the lower pass rate this year is attributable to a crackdown on
exam cheating, but MOET Vice Minister Dang Huynh Mai blamed the
"whole educational system." Local Party officials in the past have
used "good" test results to bolster their reputations with Central
Party officials, according to local press. While MOET Minister
Nguyen Thien Nhan has taken a tough line on the cheating scandal and
vowed to improve Vietnam's educational system, it remains to be seen
what results MOET's "master plan" will bring given deeply engrained
methods of teaching and testing in Vietnam. End Summary.

Lowest Pass Rates Ever

2. (SBU) On June 17, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET)
released data showing that 320,000 high school students, or roughly
one out of every three who took the test, failed this year's high
school graduation examinations. This year's pass rate was 25
percent lower than last year's. Ho Chi Minh City, Nam Dinh Province
and Thai Binh Province had the highest pass rates: 95.1 percent,
90.3 percent and 86.3 percent, respectively. Hanoi placed fourth
while at the bottom was Tuyen Quang Province with only a 14 percent
pass rate.

3. (SBU) According to local press, in Nghe An Province, some parents
expressed shock and dismay at the province's pass rate of only 45
percent, which reportedly was "the worst result in nearly 40 years."
At one school in central Quang Ngai Province, not one of the
students passed the exam.

Cheating a Chronic Problem

4. (SBU) MOET has long been criticized for not cracking down on exam
cheating and doctored examination results, according to local press.
Provincial Party officials traditionally have used high pass rates
to bolster their reputations with central government officials.
Party official's ambitions as well as pressure from the central
government for good test results have provided incentives for
cheating, according to our contacts. In a 2006 survey of nearly
2000 students, 90 percent said the use of prohibited materials was
the most popular trick used by students to pass exams. About 36
percent said bribing for higher grades also was common. According
to GVN officials, cheating was the main reason for last year's
national pass rate of over 93 percent.

5. (SBU) In May 2006, Dao Ngoc Dung, a youth member of the Communist
Party's Central Committee, was found violating rules during a
postgraduate exam. He was later removed from his post as head of
the Communist Youth Union. In addition, the police over the past
few years have caught a number of ringleaders who helped students
cheat through use of technological devices. The ringleaders
received relatively large sums of cash -- sometimes up to USD 4,000
per student -- for this help, according to local press accounts.

Anti-Cheating Movement Develops

6. (SBU) This year, MOET kicked off a campaign against cheating
after a high school teacher in the northern province of Ha Tay used
his mobile phone to secretly record students cheating, and proctors
not doing anything in response, during the 2006 graduation exam.
National television broadcast the clips. The clips reportedly
"shocked" people who work in the education sector as well as stirred
a lot of public debate. After assuming his position, MOET Minister
Nguyen Thien Nhan, in an effort to show his support to the Ha Tay
teacher, visited the teacher's family a month after the scandal

7. (SBU) In preparation for this year's high school graduation
exams, MOET initiated a "Say No to Cheating in Exams" publicity
campaign. It also vowed that, this year, students would face
stricter supervision during their exams. MOET called on 55,000
teachers to work as exam proctors as well as 6,000 others to inspect
testing locations nationwide. In the months leading up to the exam,
many provincial governments also spent billions of dong (16,000 VN
Dong equal one USD) on secure school gates and walls. During the
exams, Minister Nhan himself and other top MOET officials went to
different provinces nationwide to witness administration of the

Reaction to This Year's Results

HANOI 00001189 002.2 OF 002


8. (SBU) In reaction to this year's low pass rate, Le Tien Hung,
Head of Nghe An Province's Education Department, publicly said the
results would force "students to study, teachers to teach, and
families to care about their children." Le Xuan Tien, an official
at MOET's High School Department, said that this year's graduation
exam was "historic." For the first time, the results reflected
students' "real ability," he said. The "disappointment" experienced
by many parents, teachers and educators shows that the quality of
instruction must be improved. Exam results should force MOET "to
review curricula, retrain teachers and reform testing and evaluation
procedures," Tien added.

9. (SBU) For her part, MOET Vice Minister Dang Huynh Mai publicly
said that the nationwide low pass rate was not the fault of high
school teachers but the "whole system." MOET and education
officials for too long have allowed poorly performing students to
move up to the next level, she said. These students are
ill-equipped to handle high school and life after high school. In
response, MOET will devise "a master plan" to upgrade nationwide
teacher training as well as improve school-parent cooperation and
"student care," she said.


10. (SBU) The disappointing test results have had the salutary
effect of highlighting in a concrete way some of the shortcomings of
Vietnam's education system. MOET Minister Nhan had to take a tough
public stance on the cheating scandal because the public demanded
it. However, the prospects for MOET's "master plan" remain
uncertain, as teaching and testing methods in Vietnam are deeply
engrained, making implementation of effective educational reform a
challenge. But, the plan is at least a starting point to improve a
system that is in dire need of reform. End Comment.


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