Working Paper


Outlier Vietnam and the Problem of Embeddedness: Contributions to the Political Economy of Learning


Recent literature on the political economy of education highlights the role of political settlements, political commitments, and features of public governance in shaping education systems’ development and performance around learning. Vietnam’s experiences provide fertile ground for the critique and further development of this literature including, especially, its efforts to understand how features of accountability relations shape education systems’ performance across time and place. Globally, Vietnam is a contemporary outlier in education, having achieved rapid gains in enrolment and strong learning outcomes at relatively low levels of income. This paper proposes that beyond such felicitous conditions as economic growth and social historical and cultural elements that valorize education, Vietnam’s distinctive combination of Leninist political commitments to education and high levels of societal engagement in the education system often works to enhance accountability within the system in ways that contribute to the system’s coherence around learning; reflecting the sense and reality that Vietnam is a country in which education is a first national priority. Importantly, these alleged elements exist alongside other features that significantly undermine the system’s coherence and performance around learning. These include, among others, the system’s incoherent patterns of decentralization, the commercialization and commodification of schooling and learning, and corresponding patterns of systemic inequality. Taken together, these features of education in Vietnam underscore how the coherence of accountability relations that shape learning outcomes are contingent on the manner in which national and local systems are embedded within their broader social environments while also raising intriguing ideas for efforts to understand the conditions under which education systems’ performance with respect to learning can be promoted, supported, and sustained. 


London, J. 2021. Outlier Vietnam and the Problem of Embeddedness: Contributions to the Political Economy of Learning. RISE Working Paper Series. 21/062.