November 25, 2013 — While Vietnam has made great progress in providing access to primary education—reaching almost 100 percent enrollment — the quality of learning remains a challenge. The country’s teachers, administrators and education officials are determined to ensure that each child learns, however, not only in core subjects such as reading, writing, mathematics, and science, but in skills-based areas such as problem-solving, communication and teamwork.
In its quest to innovate for quality learning, Vietnam has looked to a counterpart all the way around the globe to South America: Colombia and its “Escuela Nueva” or “New School” model. First developed in the early 1970s, the Escuela Nueva teaching method transforms the conventional learning dynamic where the teacher is the only one talking and conveying information in a classroom, into a more participatory pedagogical environment. Students actively participate and collaborate in a group learning process, allowing them to advance at their own pace. The model has received international recognition, including most recently the 2013 WISE Prize Laureate, a prize awarded for innovations in education.
In Vietnam, with support from World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education, the approach has been piloted in some 1,400 primary schools located primarily in rural and ethnic communities since 2012. Preliminary results indicate that parents, teachers and, administrators are happy to see engaged students who are learning, interacting boldly, asking questions and exploring new ideas.
As part of a continuing program of cooperation between Colombia and Vietnam, Ministry of Education officials conducted a week-long study tour of the province of Caldas, Colombia—the heart of the coffee-growing region in Colombia — to learn how to further improve the model and extend the approach from primary to secondary education.
In true Escuela Nueva-style, participants engaged with administrators, teachers and local community members in discussing and understanding how the model worked in Caldas. Participants observed how students go through five steps of acquiring new competencies through the Escuela Nueva model– discussing prior knowledge, acquiring new knowledge, applying the new knowledge in practice, in routine and novel circumstances, and, finally, exploring ways in creating new knowledge.
Through “learning corners,” participants explored thematic areas where delegates indicated interest in learning from the Colombia experience. These included “micro-centers” for teachers’ professional development, “School and Coffee” and “School and Food Security,” which focused on integrating the Escuela Nueva teaching model with community life, and “Virtual School,” which provided ICT-based solutions.
Focus on Learning, Not Facilities
Vietnamese delegates observed that, though the school facilities in Caldas were not the most modern, the teachers were highly proficient and motivated, and resource allocation was prioritized for teaching and learning.
In Colombia, teachers at each school level have autonomy in developing learning materials. While they consult education specialists for content and have to follow nationally established standards, much of the curriculum is produced with input from teachers, based on students’ learning needs.
Vietnamese Ministry delegates also learned about how student evaluations are conducted using the Escuela Nueva approach. Under traditional educational models, students are assessed and graded based on how well they complete an exam. With the Escuela Nueva approach, students are evaluated based on both cognitive and non-cognitive competencies. Teachers follow a pattern where students conduct self-and peer-evaluations. The teacher then evaluates based on behavioral goals such as sharing. This evaluation approach allows teachers and students to have an honest, open discussion about learning goals and achievements.
“Students are not only evaluated on what they know but also on how well they apply what they learned inside and outside their classrooms, at home and within their communities,” said Mr. Pham Ngoc Dinh, Director General of Primary Education in Vietnam and head of the Vietnamese delegation that visited Caldas.
Breakthroughs in learning
While the two countries’ education systems respond to different contexts, Vietnamese delegates found strategies that could be replicated at home, including creating partnerships with local enterprises to invest in and implement the Escuela Nueva model in rural schools.