This article has been published in Enabling Education 8
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Title: Fostering Partnerships for Education Policy and Reform, Vietnam
Author: Prag, A
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2004

Fostering Partnerships for Education Policy and Reform, Vietnam

Anat Prag

Vietnam’s commitment to achieving its Education for All goals by 2015 has been challenged by the nation’s children with disabilities, who are often excluded from the formal education system.

To improve the situation for disabled children, inclusive education efforts began in the late 1980s at Vietnam’s National Institute for Education Strategies and Curriculum (NIESC). NIESC is the institution accountable to the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) for developing new curricula and teaching practices and assessments in Vietnam. Since the early 1990s, several international organisations have joined with NIESC to develop community-based models of inclusive education.

Successful inclusion requires community awareness, co-ordinated community services, teacher and parent training, adaptive training methodologies, an adjusted curriculum, and low-cost teaching materials and assistive devices. Hence, community-based support for children with disabilities was an integral part of programming. All programming highlighted the need for and benefits of inclusive education, and this has helped to create local support networks.

Teachers: The key to success

Ten-year-old Phuong’s mother recounts how Miss Kien, a pre-school teacher, visited her many times, trying to convince her to send her daughter to school. Phuong could not walk or talk and her mother was hesitant to let her go; she did not believe her daughter was capable of learning. Finally Miss Kien convinced Phuong’s mother to let her daughter attend classes. Miss Kien, working with community volunteers and rehabilitation workers, helped Phuong stand on her own and use some speech. Each day when Miss Kien comes by the house to accompany her to school, Phuong now yells happily, “Mama, the teacher is here!”

First step: Working from the bottom up for inclusive education

Between 1992 and 1996, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) worked with NIESC, piloting small projects to model and promote inclusion in pre-schools, primary schools, and vocational training institutes. In 1995, CRS began to explore ways to expand inclusive education with support from USAID and MOET. Through the USAID-sponsored ‘Expansion for Community Support for Children with Disabilities’ project in 1998, CRS and NIESC worked on refining models of inclusive education and community support for children with disabilities in three northern provinces. They worked on refining teacher training models and developing community models to strengthen inclusive education by linking education, health, and community support groups, such as women’s and youth unions. Linking groups and supporting them with technical input contributed to a rapid spread of interest in inclusive education.

In the project mid-term evaluation (2000), it was noted that disabled children were becoming full members of their community; each community surveyed could point to specific ways in which public awareness of disabilities had improved; training seminars and workshops helped improve education for all children in project areas; the project improved co-operation within the community; and had a positive influence on the lives of parents and children.

Impacting children’s lives

Hoang is ten and has severe Down’s Syndrome. He wanted to go to school but his parents were worried that the school and his teacher would not be able to support him. His teacher Thuy attended CRS training and learned how to support the development of skills and abilities of children with intellectual disabilities and is devoted to helping Hoang’s development. When Hoang started school aged five he had very basic skills. His family helped him walk to school and together they practiced speaking at home. His teacher, health worker and parents met frequently to collaborate in supporting Hoang to developing new skills and build on his abilities. His school encouraged him to participate in activities and his friends helped him at school and home with lessons and skills. Every year Hoang has proudly graduated with his friends to the next class. He has improved reading, writing and communication skills and participates in all school activities. Hoang has good relationships with friends, and is very motivated to study. Everyday he walks to class with his friends and loves going to school to learn new things.

CRS and NIESC, with assistance from other international organisations, helped generate support for inclusive education based on successes seen as a result of teacher training and community-based initiatives. In addition to strengthening teachers’ skills for integrating children with disabilities socially and academically, CRS’s work contributed to an increase in community support for the education of children with disabilities.

At the community level, Community Steering Committees (CSCs) of local leaders, teachers and health officials provided guidance and support to mobilise community involvement, organise local training, and engage in advocacy. Locally the committees were securing adaptive equipment (eg, wheelchairs, walkers) and providing tuition assistance for families.

These committees and classroom teachers also developed a Circle of Friends programme for children to help their disabled peers to and from school, and in their academic and social activities. Circle of Friends is an activity established in all classrooms with children with disabilities, which provides peer support in emotional, academic, social and physical development. More children with disabilities began to complete primary school. Good practices gained from these community experiences were shared with MOET. MOET reacted to the experiences by making inclusive education a central component in the national ten-year education strategy.

Second step: Partnership with MOET for national expansion

In December 2000, MOET stated that inclusive education was the most appropriate strategy for educating children with disabilities and that it planned to develop a national implementation plan. MOET asked CRS for assistance in making inclusive education a part of Vietnam’s National Education Strategy for pre-school and primary levels. Ambitious targets for inclusion of children with disabilities were set: 50 per cent of all children with disabilities were to be included in school by 2005 and 70 per cent by 2010.

CRS supports the national education strategy by working with MOET to develop inclusive education expansion plans. Specifically, CRS helps to identify and train a core group of MOET staff to work within governmental and educational institutions as technical advisors able to disseminate information on inclusive education throughout the country. CRS has developed many teacher-training programmes with MOET, and has worked with MOET and national teacher-training institutes to create a mentoring system in which each teacher in the programme works with inclusive education teachers at the local level. These mentors provide technical assistance directly to each teacher and keep a record of challenges and good practice, which CRS uses to inform training. Finally, CRS and MOET are working on a policy to modify nationwide testing to accommodate children with disabilities. As education in Vietnam is proscribed by the state and every teacher is literally ‘on the same page on the same day’, there is a need to fine-tune policy to include measures for disabled children.

The links between the process of policy and practice

CRS’s work demonstrates how policy and practice operate together. By working with NIESC to create effective local models to support inclusive education while simultaneously working with partners at the national level, CRS contributed to developing a strong relationship between the process of policy and practice. Today, there is greater national awareness of the need for inclusive education. People at the national level are more committed to supporting such efforts through policy reform as a result of successes in programme implementation locally. MOET developed a steering committee on inclusive education and defined a policy to provide it, complete with indicators and targets. In turn, training resources and technical capacity to support inclusive education has been expanded. Finally, advocacy efforts increased, as evidenced by the appearance of articles on disability issues in the media.

The project demonstrates strong recognition of the need to develop and maintain collaborative partnerships: government partners NIESC and MOET; local and national health care providers and educators; between CRS and other international NGOs; with teacher training programmes in Hanoi and the provinces; and between and within project participants at the local levels. It took partners working together at all levels to initially understand and appreciate the benefits of inclusive education, to demonstrate good practice of inclusive education and subsequently initiate change to education policies to support inclusion for children with disabilities.

Understanding how to improve policies to better support inclusive education programmes is vital for realising full support for such a programme. In Vietnam, CRS continues to learn how best to support national, regional, and local authorities in identifying obstacles to successful implementation of inclusive education, to quickly and clearly communicate policy gaps in the implementation phase, and to eliminatesuch obstacles by working with communities and national education authorities.

Ms Anat Prag is the Head of Programmes for CRS Vietnam and can be contacted at:
Binh Minh Hotel, Suite 342
27 Ly Thai To Street
Ha Noi
Tel: +844 934 6916