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By nancyMarch 15, 2021In Articles

History of Education in Vietnam​

Vietnam’s education went through four main periods. The first stage was the Feudal period (up to the late 19th century) when Vietnam’s education was influenced by Chinese education. The second stage was French Colonization (1884 – 1945) when Vietnam switched from Confucianism to using the Latin alphabet and followed French education. The third stage was American Colonization (1945-1975). And finally, it was a reform period from 1975 when all wars in Vietnam were over.

Feudal period (up to the late 19th century)

In the Feudal period, China brought Confucianism into Vietnam. At first, it was a way to oppress Vietnamese people. However, it helped the Vietnamese reform the simple social system from the ancients and then built a feudal society independent from China (Nguyen, 2015). Vietnamese borrowed Chinese characters; the pronunciation was changed. The Vietnamese also added some native words (World Bank, 2010). After gaining independence from China, there were three core values from Confucianism kept. First, the power was not dispersed in society but focused on the King. The King held all the power in his hands. The decision of the King was the supreme decision. Second, education was seen as a way to achieve ethical development (Yee, 2002). Respect and loyalty were the fundamental morals in society. The citizens must be loyal to the King, students need to respect their teachers, and children need to respect their parents. Third, society promoted learning by using exams to select mandarins (civil administrators). Mandarins had power and wealth and were respected by other people. This motivation encourages everybody to learn. However, Confucianism in Vietnam was not a complete Confucianism. Originally, it was dominant Confucianism. The power was concentrated on only an individual. The motivation for education was just for power and wealth. When they achieved those goals, the learning stopped. Thus, Vietnamese society gradually became conservative and underdeveloped.

French Colonization (1884 - 1945)

France colonized Vietnam from the end of the 19th century. French-Vietnamese education replaced Confucianism (World Bank, 2010). Chinese characters were no longer used. Vietnamese was built based on Latin alphabets. The French built the school systems to include elementary school, secondary school, high school, and university in Vietnam. This school system taught both Vietnamese and French. For the first time, education accessed science and abandoned dogmatic arguments from history. However, schools were only for French children or wealthy Vietnamese families. The primary purpose of education was training people to serve the colonial system. Thus, at this period, 95% of Vietnamese were illiterate (World Bank, 2010).

American Colonization (1945-1975)

After the August Revolution on August 2nd, 1945, President Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam independent. The new government identified their three primary goals: “fighting against poverty, illiteracy, and invaders.” Many educational campaigns were opened to support people as they learned Vietnamese. As a result, in less than a year, 76,000 classes were launched, which helped 2.5 million Vietnamese gain literacy (World Bank, 2010).


After achieving independence, between 1945 and 1955, France’s military in southern Vietnam tried to reclaim Northern Vietnam by force. In 1955, Americans supported France’s army in Vietnam and also started the Vietnam war. This made Vietnam form two separate parties: the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the North and the Republic of Vietnam in the South. Two independent parties led to two distinct education systems. North Vietnam’s education was inspired by the Soviet Union and was focused on teaching Vietnamese and science to develop Vietnam’s economy. Everybody was encouraged to learn. In contrast, the colonial system from France and America in the South taught French and French culture for the purpose of assimilating the Vietnamese and training some key leaders to work for the colonial system. Finally, in 1975, when the Vietnam war ended, the education system in the North was applied to the entire country. Everybody had the right to an education. Education was no longer used to support any colonial system. Instead, it focused on teaching Vietnamese and science for the purpose of self-development and contribution to the country’s development.

Reform period (1975 - now)

From 1975 to today, Vietnam education went through many reforms, but it is still not adequate. The Soviet Union inspired Vietnam’s education. With the ambition to catch up with Soviet and European countries’ education, it was overloaded for teachers and students. Teachers always tried to cover everything in the textbook with lectures without caring about what students learned. In other words, this became a teacher-centered learning model. However, after many reforms, this problem was not solved. The reason for this problem was the lack of educational philosophy to guide the reform. Each reform was an experiment to apply developed countries’ education theories with the hope that it would match and improve Vietnam’s education.


Nguyen, T. (2015). The fundamental characteristics of Confucianism in Vietnam (Một số đặc trưng cơ bản của nho giáo việt nam.) Journal of Philosophy. Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.


World Bank. (2010) “Education in Vietnam: Development History, Challenges and Solutions.” World Bank.


Yee, E. (2002). Confucian Education: A Moral Approach. “Religion East and West,” the journal of the Institute for World Religions, Issue 2, June 2002.

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