FreshEd Podcast Highlights RISE Vietnam Team’s Insights on Vietnam’s Learning Successes

Jonathan London spoke to FreshEd about his new working paper and identified elements of Vietnam’s education system that have contributed to its consistently high learning levels.


Image of Lillie Kilburn

Lillie Kilburn

RISE Directorate

Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

A systems perspective on Vietnam’s achievements

Vietnam is often seen as an outlier in education because its primary and secondary school students continuously outperform those of other countries at similar income levels, in fact scoring better than the students of many countries in higher income groups. Of course, this means that everyone wants to know: how has Vietnam achieved this success? And how could Vietnam’s achievements in learning provide lessons for other nations?

RISE researcher Jonathan London recently visited the FreshEd podcast to discuss findings from his new RISE working paper, Outlier Vietnam and the Problem of Embeddedness: Contributions to the Political Economy of Learning, which provides some answers to these questions—and emphasises how important it is to understand learning outcomes within the full context of the complex education systems that produce them.

In the podcast, London explains how a political economy perspective—an analysis of the political, social, institutional, and historical environment in which education systems are embedded—can provide important analytical context for the dynamics within Vietnam’s education system and illustrate how the system has produced such high learning levels.

Lessons from Vietnam’s education system

So how can this picture of Vietnam’s education system help us learn how to improve learning outcomes elsewhere? The answer is not that it identifies particular reforms from Vietnam that should be replicated in other countries. Rather, this analysis of Vietnam’s education system shows us the importance of accountability relationships within education systems. In other words, the key to this success is not only what Vietnam has done, but how relationships in the system have allowed its actors and components to work together effectively toward the goal of increasing learning.

In the podcast and working paper, Jonathan London identifies some specific elements of accountability in Vietnam’s education system that have contributed to its coherence around learning and therefore to its high learning levels. They include:

  • High levels of sustained political commitment toward learning matched by robust public spending on education and redistribution across provinces,
  • The promotion of professionalism within the education bureaucracy and schools,
  • High levels of societal involvement in education, including significant private, out-of-pocket financial contributions to education and consistent popular demands for greater education system accountability

These elements help create a national consensus to put education first, and London finds that this consensus is a crucial factor in producing Vietnam’s high learning outcomes.

To learn more about Jonathan London’s insights into Vietnam’s political environment, the complex nature of decentralisation in Vietnam, and how some other aspects of Vietnam’s education system are undermining its coherence, visit The FreshEd Podcast: Why is Vietnam an education superstar?

RISE blog posts and podcasts reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation or our funders.