Why Vietnamese Students Tend to Get Surprisingly High Test Scores

Vietnam’s students are outperforming peers from developing countries in global standardized tests. Despite its low-income status, Southeast Asia manages to have scores that rivals the world’s best performers in education — like Finland, for example.

How students perform on tests has an impact on a county’s economy, according to Business Insider, which can explain why Vietnam’s stellar scores are the envy of the rest.

According to World Bank data, Vietnam’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was recorded at $193.599 billion in 2015. This is over 90 times below that of the United States, which had $17.947 trillion.

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What propels a lagging economy into the forefront of academic excellence, then?

In a recently-published paper, World Bank researchers Suhas D. Parandekar and Elisabeth K. Sedmik found that Vietnamese students take schoolwork more seriously. This appears to explain part of the mystery surrounding the country’s head-turning performance.

The study utilized Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores from 2012. Aside from test scores, PISA looks into school systems, student backgrounds and learning experiences, and researchers found many interesting points that put Vietnam at an advantage.

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Despite having the lowest GDP per capita, about $ 4,098, among eight participating developing countries (Albania, Colombia, Indonesia, Jordan, Peru, Thailand and Tunisia), Vietnam positioned itself way above the charts, aligning itself more with Finland and Switzerland.

The study also found that many Vietnamese students start school early, with less repetition:

PISA takers in Vietnam were three times less likely to have repeated a grade in the past.”

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Studying long hours, of course, is nothing surprising for many Asians:

“The Vietnamese student spends nearly 2 hours more for a total of 6.6 hours per week in such classes [Math, Language and Science]… [Vietnamese students] also spent about 1 additional hour per week doing homework.”

Math appears to be the subject where the difference between Vietnam and other developing countries was highest.

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With a more centralized system, Vietnam also spends more money for education and internet connectivity, despite its economic disadvantage.

Yet there’s one thing others can learn from Vietnamese students without the aid of textbooks:

“Vietnamese students are brought up in a culture that stresses the importance of modesty and humility as a pathway to learning. They may find it difficult to say great things about themselves, because of cultural norms against bragging or boasting.”

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