Schooling, the State, and Educational Inequalities in Viet Nam

Jonathan D. London

Cite: London, Jonathan. 2007. “Education in Viet Nam’s Market Transition” in Gerald Postiglione and Jason Tan eds. Schooling in East Asia. Greenwood Press.

What is the relation between schooling, state formation, and processes of state transformation associated with the erosion of state socialism and its replacement with new institutional forms? Such a question, while historical and sociological in nature, is not merely of academic interest. For in any society, processes of state formation and transformation play a crucial role in determining the qualities, costs, and distributions of formal schooling and, in so doing, profoundly affect patterns of social change within and beyond the sphere of education.

Questions about schooling and the state are particularly interesting with respect to contemporary Viet Nam, where a communist party that rose to power on the basis of anti- colonial struggle and socialist revolution, and which pursued development on the basis of state socialism for 35 years, now presides over a rapidly-growing market economy that is increasingly enmeshed with the institutions and processes of global capitalism.

In this essay I examine formal schooling in contemporary Viet Nam from an historical perspective and in relation to the formation and transformation of Viet Nam’s state. I focus my attention on primary and secondary schooling and explain their development in relation to
continuity and change in Viet Nam’s political and economic institutions. I am particularly interested in explaining the principles and institutions governing access to formal schooling under the rule of the Communist Party of Viet Nam (CPV), which has held power in the north of Viet Nam since the early 1950s and the whole of Viet Nam since 1975. I am especially interested in theorizing patterns of institutionalized inequality in Viet Nam’s education system under the CPV.

The perspective I adopt in this essay is a political sociological one. It appreciates the practical contributions schooling makes to skills-formation, economic growth, and the promotion of  social welfare. It also, however, views formal schooling as part of a larger human resource complex, which the state designs and uses to secure vital state imperatives.2 These imperatives include the need to promote economic accumulation and social welfare, but also the need to maintain social order and to promote subjective legitimacy and consent….