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After 10 Years, Vietnam's National English Project Still Struggles to Produce Results

At a meeting held by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) on December 29, Deputy Director of the Department of Higher Education Tran Anh Tuan highlighted flaws in Vietnam’s National Foreign Language 2020, also known as Project 2020.

The project, aimed to equip Vietnamese college students with a globally recognized command of English, is still struggling 10 years after its implementation, reports Tuoi Tre.

Under Project 2020, English proficiency is measured according to the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). The guidelines of the project require college students with majors other than foreign languages to reach the intermediate level of B1 upon graduation – B1 being the third level in the six-step CEFR scale with C2 being the highest and A1 the lowest – Tuan told Tuoi Tre.

However, less than 20% of college graduates have managed to fulfill this requirement.

At the meeting, school representatives cited college freshmen’s poor English competency, short hours, and substandard proficiency of English teachers as the leading causes of the project’s failure.

In 2014, Hue University and the Ho Chi Minh City University of Transport conducted surveys whose results showed that 90% and 93.4% of their freshmen, respectively, entered university with their English competency at A0 and A1; all remaining students had attained only A2.

As a result, educators struggle to elevate their students’ English command.

Dr. Nguyen Thi Lan Anh, dean of the Department of Foreign Languages under the Ho Chi Minh City University of Transport, told the newspaper that while students at an A2 level would require between 360 and 400 hours of learning in order to attain B1, the actual classwork set by the school is a meager 100 hours.

“A 2015 survey showed that fewer than 20% of our 4th-year and 5th-year students could reach the output standard,” she added.

At another university, educators have admitted defeat.

Professor Dang Van Minh of Thai Nguyen University (TNU) explained that the B1 requirement has delayed the graduation of 2,000 students.

“We set such a high standard but could not figure out the proper way there. TNU had to lower it to A2 instead,” the vice rector of TNU elaborated.

To make matters worse, not all English educators are as competent as they should be.

The required level of English competency is set at C1 for college teachers who either teach English or use it as the medium of instruction in other majors, B1 for lecturers holding a master’s degree, and B2 for those holding a doctorate.

However, an inspection by MOET in 2013 revealed that among 500 lecturers of majors other than English, only 71 had attained C1 – the highest level achieved among this pool – with most of the rest at B2. Some 19 lecturers only use English at A2 level, and three at A1, which are lower than the level required for students.

This is not the first time Project 2020 has come under scrutiny for its shortcomings.

At a review in 2016, Dr. Do Tuan Minh, director of the University of Languages and International Studies under the Vietnam National University–Hanoi shared that teachers would stop their training as soon as they have met the bare minimum required by MOET, with no further workshops in the future to upgrade their skills.

According to Dr. Pham Van Hung, director of the Department of Education and Training of Thua Thien–Hue, some other teachers would cheat on their tests or purposefully seek out training courses at centers that would give them a passing grade more readily, reports Tuoi Tre.

The project has proven to be unpopular among schoolgoers as well. Students in less urbanized area fail to understand the purpose of learning English, while those in large cities question the legitimacy of the locally developed system of assessment.

At the December 29 meeting, several university representatives urged for better training of English teachers.

Dr. Tran Khac Hoan from Vinh University of Technology Education appealed for more professional teacher training, in particular overseas training programs. The educator believed this should also benefit schools beyond MOET.

Another university representative opined that in order for the project to succeed, the quality of English teaching in high school has to improve. Vietnamese university students rank lower than average in English proficiency despite being introduced to the language from as early as six years old; a poor basis and a shortage of learning hours thus hinder many from attaining the required B1 at the end of their university courses.

Hue University’s Phan Thanh Tien also proposed the allocation of a fixed annual budget for supplementary English classes at colleges to ensure continuation of English teaching efforts.

[Photo via Tuoi Tre]


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